Innovation in Assistive Technology – Game Play for Everyone

Global Game Jam 2024 Unites Gaming Enthusiasts Across Alberta
January 31, 2024
Global Game Jam 2024 Unites Gaming Enthusiasts Across Alberta
January 31, 2024
Show all

Innovation in Assistive Technology – Game Play for Everyone

Innovation in Assistive Technology – Game Play for Everyone

Diversity, equity and inclusion is a hot topic in the tech and entertainment industries and gaming is no exception. Today we are highlighting an amazing organization that is helping people with physical disabilities to better access and enhance their gaming experience. We sat down with Tyler Fentie from Neil Squire Society to talk about adaptive technologies, gaming, and an exciting new Calgary initiative!

Can you tell me about Neil Squire Society?
Neil Squire has been around for almost 40 years with a mission to empower Canadians with disabilities through innovations. We’re a large organization that works across Canada that offers tons of different programs that help people find and keep employment through adaptive technologies as well as many other supports. The department I work in, the Makers Making Change department, leads these innovations by creating low cost, adaptive technologies.

How did gaming become a focus?
We have a lot of cycles of feedback when we are in R&D for the various devices that we are building. A lot of the feedback that we heard from the very start of the program was related to gaming, “can I use my device for gaming?” “will it work with my controller?”
Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world and folks have a right to access that art and space, so being able to make assistive technology or help influence video game designers to make games more accessible so more people can use them is important.

How are you making gaming more accessible?
The Xbox Adaptive Controller came out 2018, it looks like a white brick with two large buttons and features a large number of ports on the back that you connect assistive switches and joysticks to. They built it so people can plug in their own tech and kind of create their own controller. It’s a fabulous piece of technology, we love it and actually helped work with them to design it, but the challenge is if someone buys it for $115, which is the price of the standard controller they’re also going to need to buy $1000 – $2000 worth of technology just to use it. This includes switches and mounting and all this other stuff, so instead we make all those peripherals like switches and joysticks and mounting at low cost.

Why do you think it’s important that everyone has access to games?
I think it’s the same reason that we value accessibility in the physical world and digital access for employment. I mentioned games are the largest entertainment industry and everyone has a right to experience that to be able to play on their own terms. It’s important to think about as the gaming population ages. I don’t plan to stop gaming when I’m 80, but might not be able to use a traditional controller, so having any kind of modification or inclusive design in any aspect is important, and gaming is no exception to that.

Tell me about your new G.A.M.E. Checkpoint at Foothills Hospital
The G.A.M.E Checkpoints Program stands for Gaming Accessibility Made for Everyone. We help centres develop an accessible gaming space to work with their community, so whether it’s a library or hospital or a game industry centre, we work with them to tailor make an accessible gaming space and offer the community to come in and try. We want to make sure it’s not a one-size-fits-all experience and you’re able to trial a huge range of technology, which is obviously very expensive to get. It’s so important to have a set space like this with experts who can work with you and you can trial the technology to see what works for you and how you are going to get back to everyday life.

What is your background and what attracted you to work at Neil Squire?
I have a mechanical engineering degree with a focus in biomedical from University of Alberta. I started working with Makers Making Change when I was in my second year. I’ve had a passion for assistive technology kind of making things not one-size-fits-all my whole life and that kind of stems from me having disability myself, so I’ve been using assistive technology my whole life and its not really made for the user a lot of the time, so that’s the reason why I got into engineering , why I started going down this path. Now I am the Accessible Gaming Lead in the Makers Making Change Department.

What has been the most exciting thing you’ve worked on at Neil Squire?
I think the G.A.M.E. Checkpoints program is still the big thing that we’re pushing and focusing on. I work with gamers daily and I’m very passionate about that. This is a big first for Canada, having accessible gaming in clinical centres is just something that’s never been done before so it’s great to see it taking off. We started one year ago and we’ll have nine centres by the end of June. In each of those centers, we have conducted over 260 gamer sessions in the first year.

You can learn more about The Neil Squire Society on their website and learn more about G.A.M.E. Checkpoints in this video profiling the Vancouver Centre.