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Video Game Communities Could Boost Social Inclusion

Online communities built around popular video games could help build social inclusion for disadvantaged groups including disabled people, a digital games expert involved in a new European research project told E-Access Bulletin.

The Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion (DGEI) research project, funded by the European Commission, held its first meeting in Seville last month. The project aims to examine uses of digital games for social purposes such as health, training, education, social inclusion and other public services – so-called “serious games”. After the researching the current state of play it aims to develop an action plan to help realise games’ social potential.

However the use of games for social benefit is wider than simply the use of gaming techniques to create “serious games” with a social or educational purpose, says Scott Colfer, project manager of internet channel Young Dads TV and participant in the Seville event.

He told E-Access Bulletin there was big untapped potential in building support communities around existing popular games, which already feature online player communities.

“The big computer games have a budget bigger than a large motion picture,” Colfer said. “It’s hard to match that, so it might be better to see how communities around games can be used.” One model might be the UK-based group GamerDads, a group of young fathers who set up their own online community to play games online ( ), Colfer said.

“They were tired of playing in normal gamer groups where if you leave during a game, it’s frowned on. But they may have to leave the game because they are looking after their kids.” From coming together as gamers, the group had developed into one of the largest online communities of fathers, and members were offering each other informal support outside the gaming sphere, he said.

“Now they work on other things together, they support a particular charity, and they do it all themselves, there’s no government input.” Similar communities could work well for disabled gamers, Colfer said.

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Accessible Kids’ Computer Games: Serious Fun

Each time I hear those commercials on TV of kids having fun with learning games, I ask myself how much of this is or can be available to blind and sight-impaired children. The truth is that, as modern technology develops, we find that more and more blind children are struggling to keep up when it comes to being able to enjoy the excitement and fun. But with more and more toy manufacturers coming out with nifty ways for kids to learn to read, write, do maths and spell, blind and sight-impaired kids need to be given ways to enjoy all of this as well.

It’s true that some major strides have been made in making mainstream games – whether educational or otherwise – more available and accessible to blind and sight-impaired kids but there is a great deal more that needs to be done. Blind and sight-impaired kids need to be able to access more mainstream technology. In short, they need to have equal access to whatever game or learning tool is out there for the mainstream kid.

Some strides have been made in the area of ball games; a beeping baseball or hockey puck, a beeping ball for lawn tennis, and look how Goalball has been developed for blind people. So all is not lost.

So progress continues to be made.

For example Spoonbill Software, run by “happily retired computer programmer” Ian Humphreys in Albany, Western Australia, now offers some 18 free computer games for sighted, vision-impaired and blind players. The Spoonbill’s newest accessible game, BG Codebreaker, substitutes all the letters of the alphabet with numbers and then invites you to decode words. You can browse all 18 game descriptions online.

Other useful sites include, a portal for games based entirely on sound;

Accessible chess puzzles, hosted by Mario Lang;

And One Switch, a gaming resource for people with physical and learning disabilities.

So can we allow ourselves to dream and hope that the blind children of tomorrow will have a better opportunity to move a bit closer to the mainstream world of games and toys? That they will have more to choose from and that they will be able to enjoy them that much more? Will they have a greater chance to participate in mainstream fun or will they continue to lag behind and need substitute games and toys?

I am sure that as time goes on, more and more toys and games manufacturers will develop products that are more accessible. Products that will benefit all kids. This may even be closer to becoming a reality than many would think, though we can lend a hand by lobbying these companies to move in the right direction.

NOTE: Donna Jodhan is an accessibility consultant who is
involved in an ongoing legal battle with the Canadian
government over accessibility of its websites (see E-Access Bulletin, September issue).

Inclusive Island ‘Discovered’ In Second Life

A new island themed around disability and inclusion has been ‘discovered’ in Second Life, by the man whose online character or ‘avatar’ was the first to use a wheelchair in the virtual world.

Llamdos (try reading the name backwards) was created by Simon Stevens, a consultant who in 2006 created Wheelies, the first virtual night-club in Second Life aimed at both disabled and non-disabled users.


Disability and Virtual Worlds: Universal Life

By Kel Smith

Many of us use and enjoy virtual worlds such as Second Life for work and play, and there is a vital demographic of virtual world participants with a wide range of disabilities: visual impairments, motor skill disorders, degenerative illness, limited mobility, and cognitive difficulties.

Many of these people use virtual technology to great social and therapeutic benefit. For these users, avatar-driven 3D environments serve as more than a game. Virtual worlds operate as a form of augmented reality, one where it’s possible to transcend a user’s physiological or cognitive challenges into something extraordinary.

international computer camp for VI students in Finland

I’m off to ICC 2007 next week to run a couple of workshops and run a camp Blog, see my post to this effect over at my Blog and please follow the camp blog and comment too to let the students know you're out there.

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