July is Disability Pride Month, coinciding with the anniversary signing of the monumental Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet, the celebrations are not just for disabled Americans. I believe that Disability Pride Month serves as a constant reminder to fill spaces with disabled voices, especially in the video game journalism industry.
Rather, DPM represents a time for all disabled individuals to share their accomplishments and goals, as well as remind our able-bodied peers that we are equals, despite cognitive or physical disabilities.
When I joined Can I Play That? in September 2019, I had one freelance byline associated with my name. After years of pitching disability-centric stories and being rejected with phrases such as: “It’s currently not in our agenda,” “It sounds nice but we’re going to pass,” or hearing nothing at all; finding a home for my voice which allowed me to write the stories that I wanted to, unapologetically, was beyond refreshing. No longer did I need to produce an industry-standard review or feature pitches, forcing me to omit key accessibility information. I could use my talents to finally educate. I could finally use my voice.
Nearly a year later, I gained more bylines—this time, at The Washington Post, as well as a promotion of sorts. I wasn’t just a contributor at CIPT; I became the mobility editor and co-owner for one of the largest, and few, disability publications in the entire gaming industry. Since joining, I have personally witnessed explosive growth in the form of developer and studio recognition, industry journalist acknowledgment, and a bevy of disabled players excited to have a site of their own finally.
Further, our team has expanded. Courtney and I are now running the show with four full-time members, each with exceptional content creation skills and unique disability perspectives, as well as numerous contributors writing stories from reviews to features. Unfortunately, despite our continuous exposure and overall growth, the glaring reminder that every article comes at the cost of free labor persists.
Every week, CIPT posts multiple news, reviews and feature stories. Our staff is working to advance the mission of game accessibility from a journalistic perspective. Our coverage of The Last of Us Part II saw us featured on the BBC, USA TODAY, as well as IGN and GameSpot podcasts. We were everywhere, but only because able-bodied publications viewed our coverage and jubilation as a niche story. The involvement of accessibility and disability voices and stories is a relatively new concept for gaming journalism, but writers and their corresponding pieces have existed for years.
This journey of inclusion will not happen overnight. However, that does not mean that acceptance cannot start right now. As video game publishers and developers continue to implement numerous accessibility features, gaming publications should regularly incorporate disabled writers into their coverage of new titles. If budgets are concerned, publications and even podcasts can begin the normalization process of including a disabled perspective within every cover story or episode.
Can I Play That’s existence and success is proof of a market for these stories. Yet, it is impossible to create a sustainable environment without paychecks, or at the very least, continuous acceptance by the rest of the able-bodied journalism industry. While I fully understand the need and importance of patience, especially as publications grapple with budget restrictions in a post-Coronavirus society, I continuously worry about my staff. How much longer can we do this for free? Or, how much longer are we willing to do this for free, especially in a society that continuously forces disabled individuals into poverty?
So, for this Disability Pride Month, I encourage the journalism industry to follow suit of gaming developers and publishers. Include us, whether as continuous guests on podcasts or as reoccurring freelancers or full-time staff writers. Give us editor positions, positions that allow us to elevate disabled voices alongside our able-bodied peers. Give us those obnoxious check marks on varying social media platforms. Give us sponsorships and audiences on streaming services.
Give us a chance to be heard, but more importantly, give us a chance to be paid.