MMORPG.com: Tell us a bit about AbleGamers and its mission.
Steve Spohn: The AbleGamers Charity is a 501(c)3 nonprofit public charity that utilizes assistive technology to improve the overall quality of life for those with disabilities through the powerful equalizer of video games. AbleGamers provides grants of equipment enabling to those with disabilities to play video games no matter their disability.
MMORPG.com: How did the organization come to be?
Steve Spohn: AbleGamers was established in 2004 by Mark Barlet. When his best friend Stephanie Walker missed their weekly Friday night EverQuest session, one of Mark’s worst fears had come true. Stephanie’s Multiple Sclerosis had attacked, leaving her unable to use her arms and hands, therefore removing the possibility of gaming.
Mark scoured the Internet for information on ways to play video games despite your disability, but there was no solid information available.
AbleGamers was born as a solution to fill the void, so that anyone with disabilities could come to the site and not only find ways to play, solutions to the ever-changing landscape of the disability world, and technological suggestions, but most importantly, a common ground were those with disabilities can come to express views and concerns without the fear of being made a spectacle, or worse.
MMORPG.com: You’ve recently launched the “Drive Home Accessibility” campaign. Give us a bit of background and reasoning behind the initiative.
Steve Spohn: Driving Home Accessibility is a first of its kind project to build a giant vehicle(s) that can bring video gaming to the disabled gaming community when people can’t come to us. Although we have a laboratory outside Washington DC, several arcades in various cities, and hold demonstrations throughout the year at conferences and Expos all across the country, some individuals are severely disabled and unable to leave the children’s hospitals, VA centers, and long-term living facilities they call home.
We’re aiming to bring the assistive technology, solutions, and expertise of those AbleGamers events to those who need it the most, and then give them the technology and the solution we come up with, right on the spot, in every city we visit.
MMORPG.com: What are the goals of the campaign?
Steve Spohn: We’re raising over $200,000 to purchase the vehicle, fill the van with equipment needed to provide video gaming solutions for gamers with any disability, and extra pieces of assistive technology to be given away.
MMORPG.com: Why was the $200,000 funding goal set?
Steve Spohn: Because it’s the least amount of money we can raise and still complete the project. We’re hoping to raise more than that, but $200,000 is the minimum to get the project rolling. The money raised after $200,000 will go towards paying for gas, hotel rooms and continuing the grant process throughout the year.
We don’t want to build the van, take one trip and then let it sit somewhere. We want to take the van across the country to visit as many places as we can from here on out. And in order to do that, we’re going to need the help of the community.
MMORPG.com: How are locations for the AbleGamers Lab chosen? Is the route and are the cities already chosen?
Steve Spohn: The AbleGamers laboratories are chosen based on funding and finding universities/libraries that are willing to house them. The advantage of building a laboratory on wheels is that it can go anywhere, at any time. We don’t have a specific route chosen for the unveiling, but we do know that we want it to start and finish at two of the largest annual gaming conventions.
MMORPG.com: What about gamers that aren’t at specific locations (children’s hospitals, VA centers, etc.)? Is there a way that they can be involved in one of the stops?
Steve Spohn: It is extremely difficult to visit people’s homes. There are legal issues and lawsuit concerns, as well as logistical difficulties that make visiting individuals difficult. Whether it’s the permanent arcades set up throughout the country and Canada, and soon Europe, or the events we go to around the world, or the visits from the vehicle being built through this project, we hope to cover as many individuals as possible.
We have more ideas up our sleeves, but this is the start.
MMORPG.com: Have you scored any corporate or games industry support? If so which have gotten involved?
Steve Spohn: Yes. We have had fantastic industry support from partners such as Paradox, EA, Rockstar, and so many others, but who wants to support this project is still in the works. What I can tell you is that we have received a lot of interest from some big names and we hope to be able to share more specifics soon™.
MMORPG.com: How can people get involved?
Steve Spohn: We’re asking the community to get involved with the project by visiting www.ablegamers.com/drive. You can read all about the project, donate directly, or set up your own team to raise money throughout the summer.
AbleGamers will be holding our own streaming events on July 5, August 9 and a giant marathon on September 12-14. However, the fundraising goes all summer long and won’t stop until we reach our goal. We hope people will sign up and hold their own events such as streams, dinners, tournaments, etc., whenever they can, to help raise money.
MMORPG.com: What else would you like to add?
Steve Spohn: AbleGamers Charity doesn’t have the same fundraising abilities as some of the bigger charities everyone knows about, but we’re getting there, with the help of loving and generous community members. We hope that the project connects with people on a very deep level.
Imagine your life without gaming. Worse yet, imagine your life trapped in a room or a building that you can’t leave. We get dozens of letters from people experiencing both situations every week.
Video gaming is a great solution. When your mind is able, but your body isn’t willing, gaming allows you to run, jump, and soar. It’s the ultimate equalizer.
Make a team or donate to help us reach those who can’t come to us for help.