For people with disabilities, video gaming can be a social lifeline. Victoria Perkins saw the effect on her son Ethan, who is quadriplegic.
“It was a huge quality of life issue” when Ethan was able to play Minecraft, Fortnite, Star Citizen and Nintendo games using a mouth-operated controller, said Perkins, who works part-time at the WSU Steve Gleason Institute for Neuroscience helping people with neurodegenerative disorders try out different kinds of adaptive equipment.
The institute’s Adaptive Technology Center holds gaming night sessions twice a month to give people like Ethan a place to try out gaming equipment, home automation tools, wheelchairs, and other technologies to see what works best for them.
Now 13 years old, Ethan uses the same Quadstick controller that enables him to play video games to do homework on a computer, and he’s able to do it all independently.
“Some of the benefit is gaming, some of it is independent operation, but it’s all hugely important,” Perkins said.
A variety of equipment helps people whose motor skills are impaired in some way. There are stickless controllers, controllers with very large buttons, and controllers operated by foot, voice command, or eye tracking.
Perkins said she’s self-taught in the adaptive technology, which has often been the case for families of people with neurodegenerative disorders.
That’s why the Gleason Institute’s Adaptive Technology Center exists, noted Theresa Whitlock-Wild, program manager at the institute.
“The burden of technology often falls on caregivers and that’s not fair,” she said. “We want to help people live well, to improve their quality of life, and to show them ways to implement the tools in the toolbox.”
The center also offers one-on-one consultations and support groups.
Ken Isaacs, director of the Gleason Institute, said adaptive gaming lets users experience the joy of gaming, while also increasing capability in using computers for other tasks.
Perhaps most importantly, he added, “it allows people to experience being in an environment of mutual support and understanding.”