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Pokémon Go players with physical disabilities want better accessibility options

Praise the game for helping with mental illness

Pokémon Go is a video game that depends on physical interaction: Players must be able to walk around their neighborhoods and have full manual dexterity to experience the game. These might be aspects of playing that able-bodied gamers take for granted, but for players with physical disabilities, these elements of gameplay inhibit them from joining friends in their adventures.

Steve Spohn of AbleGamers, an organization and charity that campaigns for the inclusion and accessibility for players with disabilities, said that for people suffering from diseases like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or even have low-vision, playing Pokémon Go is much more difficult. In some cases, Spohn said, playing the game is downright impossible and argued there are changes Niantic Labs, the developer behind the game, can implement to help out players with ranging disabilities.

"Developers could have easily enabled options from AbleGamers Includification [a guide of useful development tips] such as options that would allow one-button Pokémon catching, remote travel, and hatching eggs on a timer," Spohn told Polygon.

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Pokemon Go Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon
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Spohn added that having voice-enabled controls would help players with a variety of disabilities, including those who didn't have the strength to lift a phone because of muscle problems and those that suffered from poor vision or total blindness. He added that some players suggested having certain changes made to the game that would allow for a more inclusive gameplay experience would actually hurt the core concept of the game, which Spohn said is ridiculous.

"That's absolutely not true," Spohn said. "Options could be added to allow a mechanic to go get the Pokémon for you at a cost. Or hatching eggs after a certain amount of time when you spend a little money."

Spohn added that for players with severe physical disabilities, not being able to play the game at all because they can't go outside is already an isolating feeling. By not giving players with disabilities any options to play the game another way just increases that feeling of isolation and exclusion.

"The developers could have removed some of those barriers on the virtual playing field and still protected the core concept of the game," he said.

There have been reports on Reddit of disabled players with less severe conditions receiving help from friends or strangers also playing the game, but Spohn said that's not enough for a large number of people who want to play the game and can't.

Still, Spohn did credit Niantic with creating a game that has greatly helped people with mental illnesses and disabilities. Players with social anxiety and depression have noticed a significant improvement in their mood since playing the game and some have even admitted that the game is what's gotten them out of the house and interacting with others. A parent on Reddit said that seeing his autistic son connect with people — something that's increasingly difficult for people that suffer from autism — through the game was amazing.

"The game is doing a lot to support and enable people with emotional disabilities such as social anxieties and PTSD. As well as some mental disabilities that help ease traumas and fears," Spohn said.

Spohn said he hopes other able-bodied players will continue to help those that have difficulties playing the game, and including them in their adventures, but hopes Niantic will add some more accessibility options in future updates. Polygon has reached out to Niantic and will update when more information becomes available.

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