What does ‘disabled’ mean, and how does it affect one’s perceived value in society? How, if at all, can technology create more access to economic and social opportunities?
Corey Clark and Curtis Taylor set out to explore these questions with their 6th graders, using video gaming as both a point of common interest and a real-world engineering and technological challenge.
This project was featured in the 2021 book Changing the Subject: Twenty Years of Projects from High Tech High. You can learn more about the book and the projects within by visiting the official website.
The first half of the launch day took place at school, where students were introduced to the AbleGamers organization, and went through several simulations to build empathy — being challenged to do certain tasks without the use of arms, or reading all directions through a mirror. They opened and examined some adaptive gaming controllers, reflecting on both the packaging and the adaptations. In the afternoon, the group visited a local arcade and interviewed the owner about his love of gaming and his thoughts about accessibility. Students spent the afternoon playing at the arcade, while also thinking about the accessibility issues the morning’s activities had raised.
Through collaborations with community organizations working with disabled people, students were able to become familiar with particular clients. They learned about their disability and their passion for gaming and online community, and engineered a prototype for modifying a traditional gaming controller or device in a fashion that allowed greater access and ease of use.
Using Xbox adaptive controllers and Arduino boards connected to gaming PCs and laptops, students engineered and built real working controller devices that will allow their clients to access and play games with their tongues, feet, arms — whatever is needed to adapt to their disability (Muscular Dystrophy, amputated limbs, paralysis, etc).
In the first iteration of the project, students studied genetic and acquired disabilities; they chose one to focus on and wrote a research paper about it. In humanities, they wrote a fictional story that featured a character who had that disability. In a second iteration of the project, the research and writing focused on some of the issues and controversies in the field of online gaming, such as girls and gaming; the impact of violence in gaming; and the representation of characters in games. They examined questions of community, including how online gaming communities are different from other communities.
Curtis and Corey wanted the students to be able to play to their strengths. They designed seven jobs for students to fulfill during the project, such as engineering crew, documentarian, and circuitry specialist. Students had to write a paragraph explaining why they would be good for the job they wanted, and then were “interviewed” by the teachers.
Students exhibited their work at the same arcade where they had begun the project. They exhibited their writing and research, as well as websites they had created that documented their adaptive rigs. TV screens were set up with adaptive rigs so that all participants could try them out. The final rigs were shipped to the clients and students were able to Skype with them to see how they worked.