Alvaro Gutierrez Interviews Steven Spohn, CEO of ablegamers.

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Alvaro Gutierrez

Today, we have with us Steven Spohn, CEO of ablegamers.


Alvaro Guttierrez: Hello and welcome to project access for all today we have with us Steven Spohn, he’s the CEO of ablegamers. this is very exciting to talk about ablegamers charity we’re going to talk about video gaming for people with all disabilities and so Steve thank you for being with us today.

Steven Spohn: No thanks for having me

Alvaro Guttierrez: My pleasure and what can you tell us about when and why was ablegamers was created

Steven Spohn: So ablegamers was formed about a decade ago by Mark Barlet and Stephanie Walker. Stephanie has MS which is a disease that attacks your central nervous system and makes your muscles unable to cooperate in a way that you want them to they used to meet in EverQuest, a game that has been, you know, legendary for a long long time in order to stay connected when mark who is an injured air force veteran moved off the base because of his injury. They, they would stay connected through EverQuest and when an attack happened to Stephanie she was unable to use the mouse anymore and leaving this void in her life where she couldn’t reach out to the people that mattered the most to her in different states through videogames was devastating it was like the disease was personally attacking her and it was a horrifying experience for them, they went through all the possible things they could think of to look up on the internet and there just was no information on how to play a game with a disability. Fortunately, Stephanie’s MS attack subsided and she was able to start her arms again and the mouse and she’s, she’s doing okay today but they decided that the horrible feelings
that they went through at the time is something that no one should have to go through, feeling that they are alone and there are no answers. So, they created ablegamers and Mark has gone on to assemble a team including myself that does a lot of work to help people to be able to play their games and live their lives as to, as to the full extent they can through video games.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Do you know Steve how many people around the world play video games?

Steven Spohn: So, there are only estimations but, there are 7 billion people in the world of which 1 billion people are disabled and that’s a worldwide figure. The estimates are in nations that have access to internet and technology as a readily available source. Up to 60, 70 percent of people are at least casual gamers so if you do the math real quick you have a billion people worldwide who are disabled, you have 60, 70 percent of those people who play videogames so we are talking anywhere between 500,000 and 750,000 people with disabilities who are also gamers.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Wow that is big

Steven Spohn: Yes.

Alvaro Guttierrez: So, what you’re telling me Steve, is that iPhone or Android or Windows phones tablets users, that qualifies as video games too?

Steven Spohn: Yes, whether you are playing a game on a console like Xbox or whether you are
playing on your iPhone you know, some people play on a console and the only thing that we can, we can help them play on is an iPad and there’s no reason to consider them not a true gamer just because their abilities limit them to playing on an iPad, it’s big, it’s easy to see, for some people it is easy to touch, you know, that’s, that is what you can do then that is what we encourage you to do and we, we hope people figure out through technology how that they can play the most games that they can and play games that they want to.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Can you tell us some of the leading companies that develop games that are accessible for people with disabilities and some of the names of these games?

Steven Spohn: Well, see the thing is that what ablegamers does is that we try to target mainstream games that are just regular videogames, a lot of our audiences repeatedly said that they’re not looking for games that are meant to be accessible, they are looking for ways to play games that were made for everyone and therefor they want to play the same games as their mother, their brother, their sister, their aunt, their uncle, their best friend, they don’t want to play a game that was specifically made for them, they want to play games that are made for everybody.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Can you tell us some of them?

Steven Spohn: Absolutely! I mean when, when you’re talking about video games you are talking about everything from you know Call of Duty to the Sims you know to Microsoft Flight Simulator, anything where someone wants to play you know can be made accessible with the
right amount of technology. Now that’s not to say there are not some great accessible games that were made particularly for people who are blind or visually impaired or even hearing impaired. There are some excellent games like Into the Pit which is a really fun Xbox game where you are a monster and you’re in a pit that has no light whatsoever and the only way that you can hear the humans that are around you which you are supposed to eat is by listening for their heartbeats and you have to sort of follow the heartbeat and find them and eat them to stay alive and such and so forth, and you know, those kinds of games are really fun, so there is room for both accessible games and regular games. Our place in the world is just trying to make sure that everyone can play whatever game it is that they want to play.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Do you have some kind of the top games for consoles, for iPhone, or for Andriod, something like that?

Steven Spohn: We have an entire database on that lists games that are accesible by disability so lets say we take a look at farm simulator which is a really fun casual games that people have been playing in, by the millions recently, we have a review up that says, you know, this is good for most people with visual impairments because you can make the text really big and you can change the fonts, you know, etc. etc. it is not good for someone who is blind because there is very little audio cues and you have to be able to see the terrains and know where you’re driving and etc. it’s okay with someone with a physical disability because you can drive the tractor with one thumb but you will also be needing to push the tirgger buttons and, so you really just sort of break it down based on the games that are most popular at the moment and how accessible they are.

Alvaro Guttierrez: How many of these games are free?

Steven Spohn: Most of these games are not free, these are pretty traditional games that are anywhere from 15 dollars all the way to 60 dollars depending on how big the game is, if it is a big name publisher, or if it’s just a little indie developer that’s trying to bring some fun to the world.

Alvaro Guttierrez: How aware are in general companies that makes games for any kind of device that people with disabilities do exist in that we deserve to have them accessible for us as well.

Steven Spohn: So, that’s a very interesting question, I would say that the awareness is still a problem but it’s not an awareness of that gamers with disabilities exist, it is convincing big name publishers that gamers with disabilities is a market that needs to be looked at and tapped into. Right now, people with disabilities are considered a niche market that there are, yes there’s millions of them, but we don’t really make games for people with disabilities and we sort of have to go to them and say, well, no you do, you actually do a fairly good job of it, here’s how you can do a better job and if you do a better job you would have millions of more customers, and it’s really a matter of explaining to the publishers themselves that there, that people with disabilities is a viable market that can be sold to, and convincing them that they need to put a little bit more effort into accessibility, ablegamers has found that developers themselves very much love accessability, you know most of them have someone in their life
who is disabled and they really get accessibility and they love the things like ablegamers guide to making a better game more accessible and those kinds of things but the publishers often limit them and say, well, it’s a choice between this accessibility feature or this other skin that we can sell to a bunch of people and make it a dollar apiece, they’re gonna go for the skin to make more money and we just have to convince them that that is not the right course of action.

Alvaro Guttierrez: And Steve, talking about that what do you recommend a person who has a disability who loves to play games to do when they find a game that is not accessible for them, how can they make sure the company is going to hear from them?

Steven Spohn: Well the first step I recommend is reaching out to ablegamers and ask if there is a way that we can help you play whatever game you are interested in, often times technology can make up the gap, between where developers misstepped, and did not make accessibility as important as it should have been and what the abilities of the person are, technology can often bridge that gap quite nicely, and then, if there is nothing that ablegamers or any of the small rehab centers around the country can do then you know, you can reach out directly to the company's website and say: “Hey, accessibility is important, I really love your game, but I can’t play it.”And you know here’s why, and you should pay attention to places like ablegamers cause they wanna help people like me play games.”

Alvaro Guttierrez: And Steve this maybe sound a little bit funny for our listeners but do you play games?

Steven Spohn: Absolutely when I have time. (Laughter)

Alvaro Guttierrez: What kinds of games do you like?

Steven Spohn: I’m personally a big into fighting arenas, things like League of Legends where you can go and play with your buddies and team up against other people and have fun running around and slaughtering monsters together, those are my kinds of games but you know, I’m just, I’m just one person who likes those kinds of games, there’s a whole other types of games out there.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Do you know any sport game that is very exciting.

Steven Spohn: Sports game like real sports or video game sports?

Alvaro Guttierrez: Video games sports.

Steven Spohn: Uh yeah so Fifa the soccer game is immensely popular. It is, without a doubt one of the games that we get asked about the most and the thoroughly fun part about Fifa is that it’s, it’s a fairly accessible game you can play Fifa even if you have visual impairment, it’s difficult if you’re blind but there are audio cues in the game that if you really really want to play you can, if you have a physical disability it,s playable with a mouse, you can play it with eye tracking devices with head tracking devices because it’s very simple couple of buttons to play
the game so there’s there’s some very good games out there that are accessible. Unfortunately, you know, games like Madden football and you know NHL hockey, things like that that are also popular are not so accessible, they still need some work, but you know, slowly but surely people are coming around to thinking accessibility is more important.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Steve I remember and I have done many interviews in the past with people in the app development world for mobile devices. Someone told me, it doesn’t take a lot of money to make a game accessible at least for iOS for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, so in that regard we hope many many many games are gonna become more accessible with voice right?

Steven Spohn: Yes, so, you’re correct if you start in the early part of the development cycle accessibility is amazingly cost effective, especially with the amount of clients that you’ll get as a result of features that are added and the voice technology, that’s only getting better. If you or any of your listeners use you know, Dragon NaturallySpeaking or say to play or any of those, it’s coming along, it’s not, it’s not perfect, yet but you know anybody who uses those softwares knows that there’s errors, there’s problems, but you know, it’s, it’s coming along where voice recognition is getting better and I think within the next 5 to 10 years you are going to see areas where you can control games almost entirely with your voice.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Very exciting for our listeners indeed. In talking about that what do you see in the future for in general for video gaming, what, what is the best new thing that is coming you think?

Steven Spohn: So the best new thing for a videogamer is virtual reality, but it’s very very scary for people with disabilities, if you are a blind gamer, virtual reality means nothing to you, it’s, it’s literally a nothing because you can’t enjoy the visual medium, and along the way you take out the accessibility of having a, an iOS type game on your phone or something like that where it will be in these virtual reality helmets that don’t have the features blind gamers need. If you’re a deaf gamer same thing, it’s, virtual reality is very audio based you know, you hear something behind you or beside you that’s, that’s part of the experience, even people who have motion sickness or just can’t hold their heads up straight in order to use the virtual reality are really in a real, real jam. Now, having said that, it is very very exciting. Anybody who you know was a fan of Star Trek as a child you know, really really wants the holodeck to be a thing you know we really want 3D virtual reality to be something that exists, so, there are companies out there, that, that are, are working on this kind of thing and are, they are going to do their best to, to make virtual reality accessible, and it is our sincere hope that they find ways to make virtual reality as open to as many people as possible.

Alvaro Guttierrez: I have to agree with you Steve and what do you think about holograms coming to mobile devices? I was reading by the end of this year there’s gonna be a chip that companies can insert or whatever you install in your mobile device and you’ll be able to project holograms in the air, what do you think about that?

Steven Spohn: I think the hologram technology is, is a bit of a gimmick of um, you know, everybody likes the oh 2pac is back alive and he is a hologram like in Vegas and whatnot blah
blah blah, but the thing of it is it, sort of practically using it, I can’t ever imagine that you and I would be doing an interview and you would have me in your phone in this little shadowed, blue outline of my face and wheelchair just standing on your table, it doesn’t make sense, when we have technologies, you know, like Skype, and FaceTime, and you know, Video Calling with Google, you know, there’s I would rather see your face and listen to your voice than you be able to see a little tiny projection of what I look like, just to me, it doesn’t seem like something that is going to catch on, sort of like, Kinect gaming where you know, you jump around until your arms are round and stuff like that. Yes, that’s around and yes, it is interesting, but is it ever going to replace what we already have? I don’t think so.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Good point Steve. I saw on your website that you host some events that, can you tell us about the events?

Steven Spohn: We host a lot of different events, that’s a really big question right there, we have weekly streams on TwitchTV.ablegamers where we play, you know the most interesting that are currently on the market and we test them live to see if they are accessible and sort of give our critiques on them anybody who is interested can watch as we sort of go through and see where they succeed and where they fail. We have other ones where we just play games with our fans and just sort of interact because quite frankly, when you are a charity like ours, your fans, your supporters are what makes you, you know. Without support of the community our charity and the people we support would, would be nowhere, you know, we depend on them greatly so you know, we love to reach back out to the community and say hey, there’s a game we’re playing, come play with us, enjoy for a while, meet some gamers with disabilities, and
makes some friends. you know try and, and bring the community together. And then we have bigger events where we’ll go to places like E3 or the Penny arcades which are in Boston and Seattle or we’ll go to RoosterTeeth or disability conference like the abilities expo which are all around the country. And we’ll bring our technology and a bunch of monitors and set up stations where people can see this is how people with disabilities play games, no it’s not the way you are used to seeing it but it works the same, it works great, and a lot of your gamers can kick your gamers ass.

Alvaro Guttierrez: (Laughter) My final question Steve is for people with disabilities who have an idea of a game, what can they do with that idea to make it happen?

Steven Spohn: You know, there’s no special realm for people with disabilities to play games and if you really have a great idea that you think is the next thing you have a few choices. You can write down the idea as clearly as you can and you can pitch it to game companies or game executives and hope that they bite or you can go online and find a local developer or a local artist or local programmer and start putting together a demo for what the game will be and then you can do the same as every other indie developer, you hope that a bigger developer comes along and says “Wow your idea is amazing I have to have it” and now they buy you up and, and you make a big make a big game but, there is no shark out for games with disabilities and, and I kinda like that, I don’t think, I’m one of those guys that thinks that you should work for what you make in life and make sure you create as much as you can while you’re on this big blue marble you know? You, you have an idea you should go out and you should try and make it happen.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Steve, I, I can not let you go before I ask you about the ADA the Americans with Disabilities Act turning 25 years, what are your thought about it?

Steven Spohn: You know I, I think that the ADA is the most important document that was ever created for people with disabilities in America and it, it thrills me that a lot of the countries around the world have, have really used the ADA as a marker as a benchmark for what accessibility should look like in, in some countries like in switzerland have gone above and beyond that, ones that are better than ours, it makes me think that the ADA is what will have kicked off global accessibility some day you know we’re, ablegamers is privileged to go to the Smithsonian to do an event for the 25th anniversary of the ADA over the summer and it’s just, it’s thrilling that, that our government recognizes what we do as something that’s important in that same realm and you know although we aren’t, we aren’t allowing people to go into restaurants and eat food in other civil rights that everyone should have, we like to think that you know, our little organization is helping on the digital frontier and helping people be able to access video games just like anyone else and, and hope that our government eventually recognizes that videogames are not just a little niche for people to waste time, that video games can connect you to the world and, and give you a view into an otherwise inaccessible world where your quality of life can be so vastly improved where if you’re stuck in a bed or in your house you can’t leave because of whatever disability, you can fall in love, you can meet people, you can make friends, you can do the same thing in videogames that the ADA enabled you to do in real life only if you can’t leave your house, they can come to you.

Alvaro Guttierrez: I like the way you put it Steve.

Steven Spohn: Thank you.

Alvaro Guttierrez: For our listeners I found ablegamers by chance, I have to say that Steve, yeah by pure chance, I was google searching for people to interview, blah blah blah, but then I see ablegamers I say “What is that?” (Laughter) Then I go in there and I said “Boy this sounds, this sounds very good, but is this as good as it seems?” And after interviewing you it really is so, I’m going to be promoting your website with all my friends, you can count on it because many don’t know about it, that’s for true because I know, so we’re gonna raise awareness about it and so I wanna thank you and everyone who is involved in this and all the supporters for doing a wonderful job and finally I want your contact information on the air please for people to contact you and also for people for donating to your wonderful cause.

Steven Spohn: Well first thank you so much for your kind words and and I appreciate the support of you and your listeners, now as I was saying earlier ablegamers is nothing without support and you absolutely correct, not enough people know that video games can be made accessible and that is a large problem that we have is that people just give up on that medium, they don’t realize how important it really can be to your quality of life. Our main website is, that’s where you can go see all of our latest reviews, what we’re doing, where we are, you can make an appointment to come down to our laboratory where we will give you one on one consultation to get you back into the game, completely free, no cost to you whatsoever, we’ll do whatever we can including giving you technology if that’s what it takes to
get back into the game. You can reach us on twitter @ablegamers, Facebook /ablegamers, and if you have the means to do so donating helps us fund and create equipment that we need to give people to get back into playing games when they need technology to do so. You can go to and make a donation there, that is completely 100% tax-deductable and you can also reach me personally, I am @stevenspohn on twitter or you can reach me at, I’m always happy to help out anyone who needs guidance.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Thank you so much Steve for your attitude, your passion, and your hard work for helping people in general.

Steven Spohn: Well, thank you for having me and thanks everybody for the support, and I hope that you can help us do some great good in the world.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Count on that my friend. And for our listeners, remember that you can follow us on Twitter @projectaccessforall, you can also like us on Facebook projectaccessforall you can visit our website and you can email us for questions to so from Alvaro, from ABS, and projectaccessforall thank you so much for listening to the show and have a wonderful day.