Perspective of a caregiver

Can I Play That?3 minute read

Marking the end of the third week of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, take the chance to see a new perspective, as we share a special piece by guest writer Jeff Straub, father of AbilityPoints‘ founder Josh Straub, as he shares his perspective on his son’s journey to employment.

You are not Going to Spend Your Life Playing Video Games!

How often did I utter this to my children when electronic games were new and captured the imagination of my three children? The earliest games were played on TVs or special arcade machines often set up in grocery stores or other public spaces. Who can forget the days of Duck Hunter, Tetris, Pac Man, Donkey Kong and others? I occasionally played one of these machines, roll of quarters in hand. They were addictive to be sure! Eventually my oldest son became interested in computer games. Then got a Game Boy, a first-generation game handheld. We all spent hours playing, and often arguing over the control of the enjoyable device. Occasionally, I would remind my older son that there were other things in life to do besides playing electronic games.

When the Game Boy was first released in 1989, our youngest son Joshua hadn’t even been born. I don’t remember exactly when his older brother Ben received his first Game Boy, but I do remember Joshua, disabled from birth, scooting across the floor to get the toy and begin to try to make it work. Though his disability limited his play, he was persistent in figuring out how to make it work. He was fascinated by the game, and as he grew into a young child, discussions occurred within the family about getting him his own game. I didn’t think he would get much out of the game due to his disability, but he was determined to make it work.

The start of something big

Finally, as a student in grade six, he wrote an essay for a school English project about what he wanted for Christmas. The students were to ask for two things—something material and something non-material. He asked to be able to walk, and he asked for his own Game Boy. Of course, a disabled child would ask to be able to walk!

His essay moved both his teacher and his principal, who received the essay from the teacher. The principal took the essay home and read it to her husband and teenage son. Later that night, we received a phone call from the principal. She rehearsed this story and then asked me a question. Could her family buy Joshua the Game Boy? We were dumbfounded. She was a principal of a school of more than 2000 students and she wanted to buy our disabled son a Game Boy!

It was the start of something big. Though I had told his older brother many times that he wouldn’t spend his life playing electronic games, that Game Boy proved to be a gateway for my disabled son for a future career. As he grew, so too did his interest in all things gaming. Eventually he parlayed that interest into a career path—as a consultant for the gaming industry for players with a disability. Could game developers make minor adjustments to their games that would allow disabled players a greater access to those games? He reached out to developers offering suggestions to make gameplay easier.

Looking to a bright future

Our son has always wanted to be a working adult, paying taxes and earning sufficient funds to pay for his upkeep. Because of his disability, there were many career paths that were out of his reach, but consulting became an avenue that provided him some of these opportunities. As parents, it was our job to support these efforts, including helping him get to conferences and businesses where he could share his perspective and build his network. Soon he was getting invitations to consult on individual games and invitations to speak at gaming conferences on the subject of accessibility. He also started a non-profit organization with one goal of providing job opportunities for others with disabilities.

Eventually my son also was able to begin a PhD program that he is hoping will strengthen his earning potential and career path. We believe in our son’s intellectual abilities. Though his legs don’t work, he has a keen mind and is very articulate. Given the right set of opportunities, the sky’s the limit on his future.

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