I was injured 12 years ago in a diving accident that left me paralyzed from the chest down. While I have some control over my arms and shoulders, I can only barely twitch my wrists, and I cannot move my fingers. Since the day I left the hospital as a newly minted quad all those years ago, my obvious physical shortcomings have left me with an overabundance of spare time. Before I got hurt, I was comfortable enough with computers to build my own from scratch, and I owned a PlayStation 2. I was just about halfway through playing Final Fantasy X when I got hurt. Afterwards, I simply could not use a mouse or type on a keyboard on my own, to say nothing of the dexterity required to use a PlayStation paddle.
For the longest time, the only gifts I ever received from anyone were T-shirts, pajama pants, and DVDs. Let me tell you, without the fine motor skills to move one’s fingers, the most basic of computer tasks becomes extremely difficult, if at all possible.
But when my aunt bought for me a copy of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 7.0 back in early 2004, my relationship with computers finally began to turn. With some minimal help (typing the name of my profile before creating it, for example), I surmounted the first and most important challenge in being a gamer with a disability: basic computer interaction. By speaking into a microphone, I was able to input text, which allowed me to chat with friends, keep a journal, send emails, and correspond with other people. Dragon also came with a voice-controlled “mouse grid” which allowed for precise, albeit slow, placement of the mouse pointer. Not necessarily a solution conducive to playing video games, but it allowed me to add Internet browsing and audio/video playback to the slowly expanding list of tasks I could perform on my own with my computer.
At that point, I unlocked basic turn-based video games when I found an appropriate mouse for my own physical disabilities: an enormous four-button Kensington trackball that I could roll with the side of my right hand, and click by mashing said hand on one of the four equally enormous buttons. At the very least, it allowed me to extend the range of motion on my right hand, and I was able to play some games. If they were turn-based, for example, or real-time with pause, I could stop the action and give myself enough time to plan out my next move before continuing. What I didn’t know at the time was what I could do, and I think in retrospect that fact, more than anything, was what limited me.
Probably the greatest moment for me as a disabled gamer was when I was introduced to Eve Online in 2008. While Eve is certainly a difficult game to get the hang of, and boasts one of the sharpest learning curves amongst MMO games, it’s not only possible but easy (-ish) to play using only my Kensington trackball and Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Finally, I was able to play games with other people. Being part of a social group and playing the same game at the same time with people from all over the planet was more effective than any antidepressant I’ve ever taken. I could log in, play, follow orders, roam, kill, and die without anyone being any the wiser regarding my disability.
By being just another GoonFleet line member, I could finally have what I had always wanted: to be just like anyone else. I was hooked.
At that time, DariusJohnson was the man in charge, and The Mittani was just the guy in charge of the GIA. Then The Great War kicked off with Haargoth Agamar’s defection, and it was like waking up one morning to find the world had changed overnight. I think I had just finished training into cov-ops ships, so at the time, I was leading convoys back and forth from Tenerefis to Delve for the first few days, then scouting hostile capital ships here and there inbetween taking part in the odd main fleet. The best part for me, though, was when we had camped Band of Brothers’ entire capital fleet into PR- for an entire month. Strange how my favorite memory in the game involved pressing so few buttons, but that’s Eve Online for you. There were fights, we prevailed, and like so many other goons, I did it with one hand.
I played so much that I had forgotten, unfortunately, one of the most important rules about being disabled: take care of yourself. I had actually played to the extent that I developed a pressure sore on my butt, and it kept me bedridden for about 18 months, while I was on an intensive regimen of intravenous antibiotics. However, I had recovered, but to be perfectly frank, I really wasn’t the same.
Near-constant paranoia of another sore developing kept me from going out in the real world and interacting with people. Even though my body was physically healed (my skin, anyway), the time after I had healed, but didn’t really have anything to do with myself was probably one of the lower points in my life. The company I was doing web development for went under, and I really didn’t want to spend the time competing against hungry, able-bodied coders.
I really don’t know why I decided to get back into Eve Online, but in late 2013 I reactivated my account and rejoined the swarm. I won’t lie and tell you that the place didn’t change while I was gone, and that I didn’t have a few growing pains “relearning how to walk” in Deklein (there is a great video of me getting hot dropped by Bombers Bar in my mighty ratting Thanatos on YouTube somewhere). But one thing I did notice was that there were a lot of new faces, and the old Greek social groups were replaced by Special Interest Groups with competent leaders capable of teaching even an idiot like me how to do more than just press the F1 key (why do people think that’s all we can do, anyway?) or align to a gate.
So after a year or so of re-subscription, I had noticed some really important changes in my mental health. Knowing that I could login each day, and hang out with some of the best chucklefucks in the universe (I’m looking at you, Theta), was something positive, albeit small, to look forward to in the morning. Saying hello on Mumble and hearing even a single voice say “hey, Gommel,” beat Prozac any day of the week. And, of course, the benefits to my mental health translated to positive results of my physical health, as well: lowering blood pressure, improving immune system, not to mention the cardiovascular benefits to simply being in a wheelchair over being in bed are also profound (just ask anyone with the misfortune of having been bedbound for any extended period of time).
Things got even more interesting this past April, when my sister-in-law had told me about a contest for a minivan converted for wheelchair access that being run by a dealership in her area (or so I had thought). It had been twelve years since my injury, and at the time my parents had sprung for a converted van, but that was in 2004 and, well, time makes fools of us all. At any rate, it turned out that this was actually a nationwide contest being run by The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association looking for a “Local Hero,” with May being National Mobility Awareness Month.
But, hey, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. All I had to do was get people to push a button on the Internet once a day for a month. So, I humbly created a thread on the GoonFleet forums (and even humbler ones on the KarmaFleet Eve subreddit and disabledgamers subreddit) to let people know what I was doing and why, using my application video made by my brother-in-law. I really never thought it would snowball like this, but I imagine nobody ever does. In the end, I racked up over 30,000 votes, and was the third highest in total votes out of all the applicants.
Unfortunately, I did not win the van. Neither, as it turns out, had fellow goon Avalloc, who runs the mercantile end of the Imperium over at fatbeeswag.com, and was a failed contestant in the previous year’s contest, so I’m in distinguished company at the least. During that whole month, people would ask me the same question: “why don’t you start a gofundme?” so upon failing to win a van the official way, I decided to unleash plan B. Unfortunately, a good friend of my wife got to it long before me and the gofundme was underway in short order. There’s a word for this sort of thing, actually, I checked. It’s called Goonerosity. My wife and her friend figured they would set the goal high, so it went up with $15,000 in mind (which we estimated would cover the down payment on the type of van we needed.)
Looking back on it, it kind of makes sense that we were able to meet our goal after about a month, because people were not only learning about me through the contest, but also learning about what it actually means to be a disabled person, because people could get an extra vote toward their hero by answering a disability-related trivia question. By the end of the month, people were actually rooting for me so hard they were willing to throw down hundreds or thousands of dollars towards my cause. To protect their privacy, I won’t mention their names, but the ones I know about will have a place in my heart until the day I die. I now have a 2014 minivan in used-but-great condition, and I don’t have to worry about whether or not my car will start, or if I can make a trip longer than two hours.
Now, you would think that that would be the end of it, but fellow goon Rain saw the brief and rough videos of me playing Eve Online using my head tracking mouse and sip/puff switch, and thought that other people might be interested to see it as well. It was him who told me that, if I were interested, could be a fairly decent streamer and that people might actually want to see me play, well, whatever. He got me in touch with Sion Kumitomo regarding streaming for TMC, and once I was on the staff, he not only built my own website (accessiblegamer.com), but also helped me set up a web presence on the Internet and on social media under the same name (which, miraculously, was not taken), along with teaching me how to use OBS to set up an overlay and stream. The rest was history.
However, the thing to remember about all of this is that none of it, especially being a part of the TMC writer/streamer staff, would ever have happened if I weren’t put up to it by non-TMC members. Even still, I would’ve jumped at the chance if I had been asked. It’s even better that I didn’t have to, because I’m a volunteer, and I’m a volunteer because I believe in this website, this channel, and most importantly, this coalition. I apologize if I sound rather preachy at this point, but let’s be realistic here, so would you if you had been the recipient of so much generosity from so many sources.
Yeah, I may have drank his Kool-Aid, but it’s the best Kool-Aid in Eve, hands down.