Sometimes social media feels like it allows magic to happen when two people connect by chance and you have so much in common that you’re kind of annoyed that you didn’t get to know them sooner. Kirsta (InclusiveMum as she’s known on Twitter and Instagram) was one of those rare gems for me.
She is an Xbox MVP, a Community Inclusion Advocate, and an all-around awesome person and I chatted with her a bit about game accessibility for our latest Community Soapbox.
How did you get started in the accessibility/a11y community?
Accessibility advocacy has been part of my life since I was a child. I had intractable epilepsy up until recently. Now seizures are controlled by a device called a VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulator), so I’m a cyborg of sorts. For seizures, accessibility is more about expanding attitudes. A surprising number of people still attribute seizures to religious attitudes about possession or witchcraft, or just have very dangerous ideas about how to handle a seizure. Seizures are more common than heart attacks yet next to no one knows how to safely help someone experiencing seizure. 1 in 26 people in the United States will experience symptoms of epilepsy at some point in their lives, which can significantly affect a person socially, emotionally, physically, and will remove their ability to drive. This can affect access to work, medical care, and community involvement. I can be an isolating and dangerous condition. To make these areas more accessible, I have spent time with care providers, educators, and non-profits teaching up-to-date language, facts, and how to safely aid someone through a seizure to help save and change lives. Anyone can learn seizure first aid and updated information through their local Epilepsy Foundation or online at: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/facts-about-seizures-and-epilepsy
Accessible technology is helpful for me when I struggle with partial seizure sensory distortions and headaches. For example, I may struggle filling out online forms, but I can send a video text through an app like Marco Polo, or use a voice text instead of typing. Apple Watch has given me independence in having an app that can help detect seizures and even text 911.
I became much more of an advocate for adaptive tech once I had children. I have children with autism and myoclonus dystonia, a genetic movement disorder. They all have used different types of adaptive tech from voice to text, adaptive keyboards.
How do you feel about the progress made surrounding gaming accessibility in the last few years? Does anything strike you as particularly challenging as we continue to improve game accessibility?
Just in my children’s school years alone I’ve seen the change of special ed educators pushing learning to write by hand vs accepting adaptive tech as a legitimate substitute and dropping the focus on handwriting. Now that I have an adult son, I see him use adaptive tech mainstream without push-back or stigma.
Visiting the Inclusive Tech Lab twice at Xbox Studios has been a life-changing, humbling experience. It was the first time I felt complete ok to be me with the accessibility and accommodations I use. It was effortless. That is something I’ve never experienced and I witnessed others with varying disabilities and marginalizations also sink into the inclusive productivity that can happen there. It’s a place I wish every person could visit and take the experience home to their own communities as a benchmark of human environment.
While at Xbox Studios this year, I also participated in a toxicity panel attended by Xbox MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals that use Xbox as a tool for improving communities) and also Xbox employees, engineers to program managers. It was a time we became vulnerable together and faced practical and personal experiences of implicit bias, marginalization, online violence and toxicity as a part of development and design. My goal is always to help organizations find the barriers they create between them and the people they serve. This was a tremendous movement Xbox did to reach across barriers and hold space to hear our experiences and for them to keep renewing their active engagement in strategy, design, and intentional, systematic change for inclusive efforts they can create with the global influence of their brand. Gaming for Everyone is an initiative born at Xbox, but we’re all facilitators and stewards of it’s development, direction, and growth. That’s a tremendous opportunity and change in accessibility.
What’s been the best personal benefit for you being a member of the #a11y community?
I’ve benefited the most simply by the #a11y community existing and growing. We are able to witness, learn, duplicate, and scale initiatives that create substantial change. We are able to amplify initiatives that are already in motion. Social media has given a momentum to our movement that we’ve never had before. Previously, isolation kept many of us keeping our thoughts and experiences to ourselves, or being exiled pariahs in our greater communities, exceptions, afterthoughts, not the rule. Now with communal experience, collaborated contact, we have risen our voices and experiences up and out. Accessibility is becoming the norm, not the exception. We all personally benefit from accessibility, everyone wins. I cannot think of anything greater than that.
What’s one thing you’d like game devs and/or gamers to understand about accessibility?
That accessibility benefits every gamer. Features and adaptations can bring a better gaming experience to everyone. Gamers do not need a specific disability or atypical experience to enjoy accessibility options. I encourage everyone to explore accessibility features on their console or PC, and especially in their games, and unlock an expansive gaming experience. Headphones and microphones are adaptive technology, think how much those tools change an experience and interaction with others. I’d love gamers and developers to ask what more they can find and try using adaptive tech and settings as they stream, develop, and game. Get an Xbox Adaptive Controller and those that it applies, see what it’s like to use it on the floor to tap with your foot to jump rather than your thumb for a more immersive experience. Co-pilot with a friend using multiple controllers. You never know what you’ll find that will be a game-changer. I’d love to see these experiences shared and talked about. Exploration and discussion normalizes culture.
Now the fun part. Time to get on your soapbox. What’s your essential talking point about game accessibility?
I will say it again and again, we all benefit from accessibility. Whether it’s having the large button pads on the Xbox Adaptive Controller for a virtual world, or the large button pads to open a door of a building in the physical world, someone with no arms can play, a parent holding a baby with one arm or having an arm immobilized from a surgery, someone with carpal tunnel all are experiencing a benefit with an adaptive technology. Disabilities can be temporary, acute, chronic, or permanent, but everyone is affected to some degree in their lives. When we bring human reality to design, we design for human experience, we welcome unlimited human potential.