The Unwelcome State for Disabled Gamers of Color

The manner in which we rank our own identities has long been a point of fascination for me. If you ask me who I am, I will tell you I am a Muslim immigrant who is queer and deaf. My partner would tell you that they are a chronically ill queer nonbinary person. My older sister? She would have told you she is a Deaf, queer, Muslim immigrant. Note the difference between my “deaf” and my sister’s “Deaf.” I asked a dear friend about her identity and she told me, “I’m a Black Deaf woman.” I have found that the identities that we connect with most deeply and those that play the largest role in who we are and how the world perceives us are the identities we list first when naming ourselves.

…there simply are no gaming communities that feel particularly welcoming to me as a disabled person of color

I grew up in Turkey and only came to live in the US in 2012. As my older sister was, I was born deaf, but unlike her, I was made to get a cochlear implant by our parents. My sister left Turkey in her young teen years to live with our aunt in Chicago where she grew to embrace her Deaf identity and adopt Deaf culture as her own. She grew up to be proud of her Deaf identity while I grew up hearing, albeit differently, but I never claimed a deaf identity. I still don’t, not really, because the culture in which I was raised, deafness was never seen as something to take pride in. I’m a proud Muslimah. I’m a proud Turk. A proud queer woman. And my ears happen to not hear. 

Video games are something I enjoy daily. They bring me joy, help me relax, and most importantly, sustain a connection to my sister who died suddenly two years ago. And yet, I am hesitant to call myself a gamer. The negative connotations with the term “gamer” are simply too much and too unwelcoming. But more than that, there simply are no gaming communities that feel particularly welcoming to me as a disabled person of color.

Games have made great strides in accessibility in recent years, allowing disabled gamers to be more invested and immersed in these wonderful fictional worlds than ever before. Yet while games have become more accessible, gaming communities have not. Countless communities and outlets fail to incorporate the most basic and free accommodations—alt text in their social posts—and their non-written content is wholly inaccessible to me as a deaf woman, as captions are very rarely anything but auto-captions for video content and transcripts for podcasts are never part of the budget.

The only gaming community I can truly engage with is the disabled gaming and accessibility community, yet these spaces remain predominantly white and their skew toward disability pride is not something I relate to. 

When trying to exist in both spaces, I, and many many others like me, have been kept out. Told that accommodations such as captions are not in the budget. Told that it’s a shame I don’t feel pride in my deafness (I would argue that it’s quite hard to feel pride when over and over again, you’re told that your needs simply aren’t part of the budget).

…not every culture can or wants to embrace disability pride

None of this is to say that disability and Deaf pride are not wonderful things. They are. I grew to adore my sister’s love for her deafness even if my relationship with my own may never resemble hers. I feel that pride in other parts of my identity and that is enough for me. Not every culture and community can or wants to embrace disability pride and that needs to be accepted by the disabled community lest they risk denying anything but whiteness as valid identities in their community. Disability and chronic illness are viewed differently in every culture. Just as there is no one way to exist as a Muslim, a queer person, an Arab woman, there is no one way to exist as a disabled person and there must be space for those narratives that aren’t in celebration of a disabled identity. Both can exist without diminishing the other and communities of disabled people must ensure psychological safety for all disabled people.

Gaming communities for people of color must embrace accessibility or they risk denying disabled people of color a place in their spaces.

On the other side of the matter, gaming communities, outlets, and projects for people of color must embrace accessibility or they risk denying disabled people of color a place in their spaces. Even if we are not actively claiming our disability as a point of pride or part of our identity, our access needs remain.

Neither of these exclusions are some secret malicious plan to keep out disabled people of color, for I know that both do welcome us, or would if they had more awareness. The root of these exclusions comes down to money. Funding, or the lack of it. With proper funding, gaming podcasts for and by people of color could transcribe their episodes. With proper funding, white-staffed sites like Can I Play That? could hire and pay people of color as editors, creating a more welcoming environment for writers of color.

Creative work from BIPOC is undervalued, under-appreciated, and woefully underfunded. Accessibility is expensive. When you barely have an operating budget, it is natural that you would prioritize your own access needs. I know that if I created video content it would likely be in Turkish and if I was receiving no funding, I would not prioritize English captions. And as Courtney and Stacey teach in their Accessible Community Management Workshop, creating content focused on our own consumption needs is a bias we all have.

Creative work from disabled people is undervalued, under-appreciated, and woefully underfunded. This leaves the work for those with the ability to do free and often emotional labor. Too often those who are privileged enough to do free and emotional labor are white people. But when disabled people of color see a sea of white faces, history has taught us that our stories are not wanted unless they fit the white-centric narrative.

There is much work to be done in the disabled gaming community in dealing with its white-centeric problem and there is much work to be done in gaming communities surrounding accessibility and inclusion. Disabled people of color should not have to fight to have our narratives seen as valid and worthwhile, nor should we have to ask for access to communities for people of color, yet we are forced to do both time and time again. Until both have been rectified, game lovers like myself remain without a community in which we can share our love.

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