A rare beast has appeared - A disabled game developer!

My entire 20+ years as a game developer I’ve been mobility disabled. By that I mean I can’t walk or stand without an aid. Back when I started I used crutches, now I use a wheelchair as well. In the past I tended to try and downplay it even to the point of not including anything about it on my CV for the first 15 years of my career.

In an infamously hard un-diverse industry, for a long time I wanted to be judged on what I’ve done rather than the fact I’m disabled. Now its important to be counted as we try and move toward a more inclusive industry.

I’m not sure how or what to post about the subject but I think its worth sticking a flag in the ground and pointing out that being disabled in the games industry is doable. Not always easy but doable.

Chronic Pain

People are usually confused when I tell them that my disability isn’t being in a wheelchair or using crutches but pain. For me the wheelchair is pain relief, its allows me to do more before the pain becomes unbearable. This can be used to comic effect as most people assume if you are in a wheelchair you can’t stand, I like many wheelchair users can!

Chronic Pain has numerous fun things like brain fog, tunnel vision, forgetfullness, weakness and yeah its hurts. The pain in my ankles I’ve best described as “Take a nine inch nail and hammer it through your heel into your ankle”, often even in a chair doing as little weight bearing as possible, by end of working day I just wanna lay down.

This also is something you may have to explain, there is often a assumption that what they see is the only problem. This is particularly true of disablity without any visual indiactors. Don’t expect them to really understand how it affects you unless you tell them.

They really won’t have a clue what you need!

Most firms do there best to accomodate but often they rent the buildings or require bulding modifications and as such something are ‘unfixable’. This is particularly true of lifts/elevators; it almost becomes a game, “Spot the different ways architects can not make a lift useable by a wheelie” (this probably indicates how many disabled architects there are…).

Even the biggest company don’t have enough disabled people (in any positions) so they often make mistakes. I worked at Apple in Cupertino and they had some issues, one in particular was the carded security doors were not wheelchair friendly. They were heavy and the place to present my card made it hard to use. There was two of these between my desk and the breakout room where I could get a drink. It wasn’t malicious but they simply have never had to face the problem where even a door can be a problem. This was enough of a problem that I wasn’t getting hydrated enough during the day, I mentioned it the office manager and she fixed it in an awesome way. They put a minifridge under my desk filled with drinks I liked. Obviously long term they need to redesign the security system with disabled people in mind but short term it worked.

This means if you are a disabled game developer at any company you are almost certainly the first one they have to accomodate and that means you have to let them know. Personally I’m terrible at this but as several HR people have told me, “its not just about yourself its about future disabled people at the company as well”. Telling them whats its really like may help not just yourself but the next disabled person who comes along.

Make them laugh, or make them cry

I have a dark sense of humour, so usually find them funny so i’m gonna post in future a few tales about wierd offices and stories. Its important to note, none of these problems were delibrately put there to frustrate a disabled person but even the most modern offices are miles apart from being disabled friendly.

Hard mode

The honest truth is being a disabled game developer will probably be harder than some who isn’t, but then that life for us right? We are used to it and until wider society is more disabled friendly expect game developer to be even more so.

Its a very un-diverse field, male heterosexual healthy white people are the massive majority (I’d say about 8 to 1, for disabled people alone its way lower perhaps in the 10-100 to 1 ratio). But the more diverse people the better it becomes, if you’re disabled and thinking of getting into games, do it!