Meet the Disabled Streamers Who Are Transforming the Industry

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“Today, the goal of my streams is to provide a welcoming space to help non-disabled gamers engage and become more comfortable with learning alongside the disabled community,” Vasquez says. “Our small but tight-knit crowd works as a team to make sure everyone who stops by a live stream leaves with a better understanding of accessibility and the ways in which it brings people together. I am proud we can work collaboratively to spread my message: enjoy gaming, no matter the circumstances.”

Vasquez’s advocacy within the fighting game community led to numerous opportunities to represent disabled players on a global stage. His presence at Evo, the Evolution Championship Series, in 2013 and Combo Breaker in 2019 afforded him the chance to connect with several developers from NetherRealm Studios, the company behind popular games such as Mortal Kombat and Injustice. As a result of these interactions, Vasquez was responsible for NetherRealm Studios adding key audio accessibility features, particularly through the form of environmental sound cues when characters approach interactive objects. This option, originally introduced in the first Injustice, can now be found in every title produced by the studio.

When streaming, Vasquez continues to keep accessibility in mind. Not only does he utilize a screen reader to read messages from his chat, he is also exploring new ways to incorporate closed captioning for deaf viewers. He even implements accessible solutions when designing and creating The Sento Showdown, a competitive tournament for blind and low-vision players hosted on Xbox.

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“Our entire audience had a front row seat to witness blind gameplay and production in action, and we are confident that many viewers walked away with a renewed appreciation for the power of inclusive practices,” he says.

From third-party software to able-bodied assistance, Vasquez manages to find workarounds, especially when Twitch’s inaccessibility creates problematic effects.

“Typically, common screen readers like JAWS, Voice Over, and NVDA will all follow the Twitch site scripts, which make a screen reader announce the long list of viewer badges before getting to the name of the sender and, finally, their message,” he says. “For cases where messages load in mass quantities, this will overload a screen reader and sometimes cause it to shut down entirely. It makes it difficult to respond to chat messages in real time.”

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Vasquez hopes to see third-party developers work with Twitch to create accessible add-ons for better streaming experiences. Overlays, alert animations, and chat notifications should be designed with accessibility in mind, he notes. He also echoes Robinson’s statement regarding a Disability tag to allow disabled viewers and streamers to connect. But while Twitch certainly needs to improve its accessibility, Vasquez’s streams create an environment where exceptional gameplay is celebrated regardless.

“My sighted audience understands the importance of my accessibility tools, engages with fellow blind and low-vision players in the chat, and everyone is encouraged to exchange gaming experiences with each other.”

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MikeTheQuad

In 2011, Michael Luckett suffered a C6 spinal cord injury after a motorcycle accident. Without the use of his hands, Luckett discovered and began utilizing adaptive equipment to play video games, streaming as MikeTheQuad. Eventually, adaptive gaming became the central focus for his streaming endeavors.

“My channel has always focused on educating the world on disabilities and gaming,” Luckett says. “When I started my channel, the first thing I wanted to ensure was that my brand aligned with my mission. That began with my name, MikeTheQuad. I wanted to create an identity that is easily deciphered. While misinterpreted by those without disabilities, I’ve found my name to be a great icebreaker to talk about disabilities.”

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The primary tool within his streaming arsenal is the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a completely customizable device capable of utilizing varying switches, buttons, sticks, and even other controllers to create an entirely inclusive experience for those with physical disabilities. Like some streamers, Luckett displays several camera angles to showcase live reactions and how he plays, with particular emphasis on highlighting the Adaptive Controller.

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