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The Globe and Mail

Accessibility Arcade to help disabled video game lovers level up

Mark Barlet, President of the AbleGamers Foundation, right, started the foundation in 2005 after seeing how difficult, expensive and frustrating it can be to experience the pleasures that many gamers take for granted. “These are real-life things for us.”

AbleGamers Foundation/Facebook

Disabled Canadians gamers are finally getting a chance to try-before-they-buy with the opening of the Accessibility Arcade at the University of Toronto starting April 26.

Housed in the Semaphore Research Cluster at the university's Robarts Library, the Arcade will showcase the latest technology and controllers that allow people with disabilities to play popular console and PC games such as Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed. After this weekend's public open house, the permanent installation will be accessible by appointment (for this weekend's event you can register here).

"This is a testament to the university's commitment to people with disabilities in Canada," says Mark Barlet, founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, the West Virginia-based charity behind the Arcade.

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Custom-made controllers for gamers with such disabilities as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis are expensive, often running between $400 and $900. Mr. Barlet says he has received many e-mails from people who have bought the controllers, only to find that they don't fit their specific needs.

"Our biggest fear as an organization was that someone would see a video on the web, drop all that money and then get it in their house and not be able to use it," he says. "Being disabled is kind of expensive and many people are on fixed incomes, so these are luxury goods."

At the Arcade, specially trained staff will assess individual gamers' needs and advise them on the best equipment to buy, which can also include special software for sensory issues.

Mr. Barlet's backgound fuels his mission: He is an avid gamer, a disabled war vet and has a sister with MS. He started AbleGamers in 2005 after seeing how difficult, expensive and frustrating it can be to experience the pleasures that many gamers take for granted. "These are real-life things for us."

The first Accessibility Arcade opened in 2012 at the Martin Luther King Jr. public library in Washington, D.C., with the new Toronto installation the first one outside the United States.

AbleGamers estimates about one in five American gamers, or about 65 million, have some sort of disability, with a similar ratio likely in Canada.

The organization favours Xbox and PC games because those platforms tend to work better with accessibility technology.

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"PlayStation had a tendency in the past to break accessible controllers through software upgrades," Mr. Barlet says. "Until we can get some sort of agreement from PlayStation to stop doing that, we don't recommend bringing them into a more public space because you're just asking for frustration, unfortunately."

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