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AbleGamers

AbleGamers

I enjoyed playing video games in my youth.  Now there are games everywhere…on our computers, phones, and televisions.  Some offer learning opportunities while others offer opportunities to connect.  Today’s organization offers video games as a catalyst to level the playing field.

In 2004, Mark Barlet his usual Friday evening plans to meet his friend Stephanie Walker in a game called EverQuest for a weekly game time.  When she did not show up in the game, Mark became concerned and called her house.  Albert, her husband, answered the phone with Stephanie crying in the background.  She was experiencing a severe Multiple Sclerosis attack which had left her unable to use her left arm.  She could not feel the mouse in her hand, let alone use it to play.

Mark searched the Internet in search of information to help her play despite her disability and became dismayed to find nothing was available for those who need help gaming with a disability or war trauma.  Mark started AbleGamers as a blog to help fill the void and help others going through a difficult time gaming.  Today, AbleGamers is a large international non-profit that believes there should be no barriers to fun.  They work to improve the lives of those with disabilities through greater access to the world of video games; a world that allows individuals to run, jump and soar despite their physical barriers in life.

The AbleGamers Foundation’s mission is to bring greater accessibility in the digital entertainment space so that people with disabilities can gain a greater quality of life and develop a rich social life that gaming can bring.

You can watch this video to learn more about their mission and impact:

AbleGamers reaches out to the gaming industry to speak to developers and publishers to educate them on game improvements that are most effective and practical.  They do this through direct consultation and their guide to game accessibility.  They also help people on an individual basis with their community website.  Through forums, individuals with disabilities and/or their caretakers can post questions.  The forum community can participate to help come up with a solution.  In addition, AbleGamers holds the largest database for video game reviews addressing the specific purpose of addressing the accessibility of the game.  They also run many grant and outreach programs to help the community members as their funding allows.

Steve Spohn, editor-in-chief at AbleGamers shared one story of their work with me.  “One of my personal favorite stories is from an event called Abilities Expo in Chicago, Illinois. We were there with our Accessibility Arcade™ showing all of the latest and greatest assistive technology the world has to offer. One day, a couple and their son who had a severe neuromuscular disorder came up to our booth and asked what would be possible to help him game.  We noticed that although he was not able to use his upper torso, his feet were still kicking. Mark pulled out a foot pedal, plugged it into our Adroit-a device which we helped create that allows switches to be plugged into an Xbox instead of the standard controller-and held the pedal up to the six-year-old child.  He was ecstatic. He giggled and smiled watching a race car run around the track from his foot operating the controls. They had a great time and we feel very satisfied to have helped another gamer with disabilities.  A few hours later, the father came up to me and placed his hand on my shoulder from behind. I turned around to see a very proud, strong and tall man with tears in his eyes thanking me for giving his son the opportunity to enjoy video game like any other young boy.  It is an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

AbleGamers is currently working on a project called AbleGamers to go which will be the first of its kind double decker bus filled with accessibility equipment, assistive technology, and videogame apparel.  They have plans to bring this bus around the country to children’s hospitals and veteran’s centers to help bring gaming to them.

How can you help?

AbleGamers is always looking for new volunteers.

  • Volunteers are needed to write content for the website, help with real-life conferences, assist with fundraisers, and spread the word about the importance of gaming with a disability.  To volunteer, submit the form on their website.
  • You can make a monetary donation through their website.
  • If you develop video games, you can review their guide to game accessibility and incorporate accessibility into your games.
  • You can also spread the word about this organization by sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter.

You can learn more about AbleGamers on their website, AbleGamers.com.  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also visit their guide for game accessibility at includification.com.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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The Blue Slide Project

The Blue Slide Project

Last summer I wrote about Dana Millington, a mom who is honoring her daughter by creating an inclusive playground in her Minnesota community.  Today’s post is about another mom who has built a playground for her son in Oregon.

When Mona Pinon’s son Isaac was just 4 months old, he was paralyzed after a cancerous tumor injured his spinal cord.  He has been in a wheelchair since he was 18 months old and is now in kindergarten.  In November of 2011, Mona visited the school where Isaac would attend kindergarten and found that he would not be able to play on the school’s playground equipment.  She met with the school principal who suggested she approach the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA).  She went to a meeting, told them what she wanted to do, and asked for help.  They agreed to support the project and Mona agreed to be the fundraiser.  The Blue Slide Project was born.

Over the summer of 2012, Mona and her team of fundraisers held a variety of events to raise money to build a new playground at the Parkside Elementary School in Grants Pass, Oregon.  They held a Bunco Night, Zumbathon, Concerts in the Park, a car wash, yard sales and more.

In July 2012, the construction of Phase 1 began.  You can see the groundbreaking in this video from KDRV TV.  In August 2012, Isaac was able to celebrate his 5th birthday by cutting the ribbon on the new playground.

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The community really rallied around the project to make it become a reality.  One example is a 64 year old man with Parkinson’s Disease who walked 46 miles from Grants Pass to Ashland, Oregon.  He said he was “doing what Isaac can’t.”  He ended his journey with a trip down a slide with Isaac.  Mona said she believed this was possible “because a community believed that ALL children should have the freedom to play.”  She has received e-mails from local residents thanking her for making the playground possible.  Even adults with disabilities are now able to interact with their children at the playground where before they could only watch from the sidelines.

There is a second phase to the project which will resurface the remaining area of the playground.  Anyone can purchase a tile for under $20 to help support the resurfacing.   Mona hopes to work with the local parks department to help make other local parks accessible to all as well.

I asked Mona for her tips to others who want to build an accessible playground in their community and she told me to be prepared to do a lot of research and do not be too proud to ask for help.  Ask the media to share the story of what you are doing.  “Keep your eye to the end and enjoy the people you meet along the way.”

To learn more about the Blue Slide Project, connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail.  You can also find the link to donate to the project on their Facebook page.

Watch Isaac use his blue slide here:

Related Post: Madison Claire Foundation

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Madison Claire Foundation

Summertime is prime playground time!  Time to swing, slide, run, jump, and play tag; but playgrounds are not made for all kids.  Today’s organization is on a mission to change that.

On May 16, 2002, Madison Claire Millington was born.  She appeared to be a healthy baby, but by her six-month checkup, her parents knew her development wasn’t progressing the same as her two older siblings.  Madison was not lifting her head, rolling, bearing weight on her legs or sitting unaided.  The doctor referred her to a neurologist and a diagnosis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) followed.  According to the SMA Foundation, “SMA is a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by muscle atrophy and weakness. The disease generally manifests early in life and is the leading genetic cause of death in infants and toddlers”.    Madison lived until just three months past her second birthday.  She passed away on August 17, 2004. 

 

After Madison passed, her mother Dana knew she wanted to start a foundation that would help families with disabled children in some way.  The birth of that idea came after a day of golfing for her husband Dave.  A group of men passed a hat around the table and collected a couple thousand dollars.  They told him it was for the family to use where they needed it.  They put it in savings until they were ready to make that decision.  They started the foundation by donating overnight backpacks to parents in the Pediatric ICU at St. Paul Children’s Hospital.  The backpacks contained everything needed for an overnight stay.  Over four and a half years, they donated 320 backpacks annually. 

Then, one morning Dana saw a news segment on “inclusive playgrounds.”  As she watched a family share a story similar to hers, she remembered taking her children (including Madison) to the playground.  Dana had to decide between letting her older children (then only ages 5 and 3) play independently in the playground or to leave Madison alone in her wheelchair at the edge of the playground.  Playgrounds are a childhood experience that no child should go without, and while all playgrounds can claim they are accessible, they are not inclusive. 

The Madison Claire Foundation is currently raising funds to build an inclusive playground named “Madison’s Place” in Woodbury, Minnesota.  They hold an annual fundraiser and accept donations through their website.  The playground will be 15,000 square feet and is being designed with help from the Rehabilitation Services team at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. 

A rendering of the Madison’s Place playground

How can you help?

  • You can make a donation directly on the organization’s website.
  • You can also volunteer to help with their annual fundraising event – the next one is scheduled for October 20, 2012.  Watch for updates on their website.
  • You can also contact them directly at dana@madisonclairefoundation.org to inquire about group fundraisers or other volunteer opportunities.
  • You can also spread the word about the need for inclusive playgrounds.  If you don’t live near Woodbury, you can search accessibleplayground.net to help you locate inclusive playgrounds near you in the United States or Canada. 

You can learn more about the Madison Claire Foundation at their website, www.madisonclairefoundation.org and sign up to receive their newsletter.  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization

 

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Don’t Stare, Be Kind Instead

This year I have added an additional focus on kindness to The Blogunteer.  Recent posts included Habits of Kindness, Random Acts of Kindness, and Storytellers for Good.
Today’s post is a guest post from Mindy Rhiger.  Mindy is a librarian and book reviewer.  She blogs about books and family life at Proper Noun Blog.  
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It’s okay to be curious.
That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people.  The key is how you express your curiosity.
I wear a prosthetic arm.  It isn’t something most people see everyday, and I completely understand that people–especially kids–are curious about it.  I am happy to answer questions people might have about my arm.  I just have a few tips for people (and parents) who don’t quite know what to do or say when they meet someone physically different.
General Tips:
  • Try not to stare. A second glance is completely normal, but if you want more information than you can get in a glance or two, it might be a good idea to say hello. :)
  • It’s okay to ask questions, but look for cues.  I will often smile or make eye contact if I notice someone who looks curious to let them know that I’m friendly and willing to talk.   If you don’t see “friendly cues” from someone with a physical difference, it might be a good idea not to approach them with questions.
  • Keep offers to help reasonable, and remember they probably aren’t necessary.  If someone doesn’t look like they are struggling, they probably don’t need help.
  • Ask before you touch someone’s assistive device, including wheelchairs, prosthetics, or eye glasses.
  • Don’t make assumptions about a person’s disability.  For example, most people assume I lost my arm in an accident, but that isn’t true.  Try to ask open questions rather than specific (e.g. “What happened to your arm?” is better than “How did you lose your arm?”)
  • Be discreet.  Not everyone likes to be the center of attention, especially when talking about themselves.  It might be a good idea to ask your questions privately or in a small group.
Tips for parents:
  • Talk about people with physical differences before the issue comes up.  You might share books from my bibliography or watch the episode of the PBS Kids show Maya & Miguel where they meet their friend Andy, who has one arm like me.
  • Allow kids to ask questions directly of the person with the disability if possible.  Look for signals to see if they seem willing to be approached.
  • If your child does ask a question about someone’s disability, let the person answer.  I find that most people with disabilities understand kids’ curiosity and are quite willing to show them that they are not as different as they might appear.
  • You might make a connection to something your kids know when you talk about physical differences.  I often compare myself to Nemo, who had a “lucky fin.”
  • Don’t be too hard on kids if they do or say something rude.  For most kids–and some adults–it’s a new experience to meet someone with a particular physical difference.
  • Be prepared for repetition.  Younger children (preschoolers, in particular) are likely to ask the same questions about my arm the first several times we meet.  It might feel a bit embarrassing to have them bring it up over and over again, but it’s normal, and it will sink in eventually.
I completely understand curiosity about me–about how my arm works or how I do things one-handed–and I’ll gladly answer questions rather than leave people wondering.  Next time you happen to meet someone who is different, approach them with kindness, and you just might find that they will answer all your questions.
If you are curious about Mindy’s prosthetic arm, check out her Fake Arm 101 page for answers to frequently asked questions.
 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Guest Post

 

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