Xbox is combating exclusion with its accessibility drive, and others should follow

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A custom Xbox Adaptive Controller built by Oliver Koerber for accessibility

By JEZ CORDEN, Windows Central

Microsoft has invested more than ever in its gaming business lately, with its purchase of ZeniMax/Bethesda, a huge staff increase, exclusive content for Xbox Game Pass, and much more. There’s another area of investment in the Xbox division that is producing results of an entirely different nature, though: improving people’s lives.

Microsoft’s accessibility drive hit the spotlight with the advent of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which allows gamers with disabilities to create custom solutions to fit their specific needs. Really, though, there’s so much more to what Microsoft is doing in the space, and it goes all the way back to the Xbox 360, when Microsoft brought screen readers like Windows’ Narrator, and later features like Xbox Copilot on Xbox One.

It doesn’t really need explaining — Microsoft’s leadership in this space is changing lives for the better, and other companies should sit up and take notice.

I previously wrote about how the Xbox Adaptive Controller helped my friend Oliver, who works around osteogenesis imperfecta to maintain an active gaming lifestyle. Of course, there’s no simple catch-all solution for solving accessibility needs — as versatile as the Xbox Adaptive Controller is by itself, it requires a range of tools and features for a platform to be truly accessible, and there’s still work to be done.

I was inspired to take another look at accessibility recently by this post on reddit, from u/duz_machines. He describes Xbox’s Copilot feature, which allows you to separate controller features between two different gamepads in a single game. His sister has cerebral palsy, with impaired motor skills. As a result of Copilot, u/duz_machines’ sister has enjoyed an improved quality of life, able to experience games that were previously completely inaccessible.

For those unfamiliar with copilot mode, basically all it does is allow two controllers to input as one controller. This enables me to take a lot of the burden from her, while allowing her to control what she can control. She’s been able to play games previously unfathomable for years because of this one, small, almost hidden feature. What pushed me over the edge to actually write this was Resident Evil Village. It is now one of her favorite games of all time; she can’t stop talking about it, and the only way she could’ve enjoyed it was Xbox. Nintendo and Sony don’t offer a copilot mode equivalent.

Sony has begun improving its accessibility features gradually, adding narrator features and other things, but is still a fair ways behind the curve. Nintendo is arguably the worst, for multiple reasons. Nintendo’s IP is Disney-like in their appeal to younger audiences, and there’s nothing worse to me than imagining how Nintendo makes youngsters with disabilities near completely excluded, owing to its general apathy towards these sorts of features.

Click here to read the full article on Windows Central.

Simone Biles Prioritizes Her Mental Health By Withdrawing From Team USA’s Final Competition In The Tokyo Olympics

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Simone Biles at the olympic games posing with her arms in the air in front of a balance beam

By Marsha B., Yahoo! Lifestyle

Over the years, people with high profile occupations like athletes, musicians, and actors, have compromised their mental health at the expense of their craft. The idea that you have to power through filming a movie, performing at a concert, or competing in a game because people are depending on you, often causes you to compromise the time needed to rebuild your mental, physical and emotional stamina.

When Naomi Osaka first told the world that she wouldn’t participate in the 2021 French Open, she was met with both praise and mockery. We rarely hear of athletes prioritizing their mental health, but this generation has made it clear that no competition is worth compromising their mental and emotional well being.

Simone Biles is the latest athlete to throw in the towel and withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics. In a tweet from the USA Gymnastics, they gave Biles’ official statement.

“Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

Although her official statement says she’s withdrawing for medical issues, others are saying it is more about preserving her emotional well-being. In another statement, Biles said that physically she feels well but emotionally things aren’t as steady.

“Physically, I feel good, I’m in shape. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn’t an easy feat, so we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and we’ll see.”

In another tweet, an NBC commentator reported that according to a Team USA coach, Biles’ exit was less about an injury and more about an internal struggle she’s having.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Lifestyle.

MEET THE U.S. PARALYMPIC WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD TEAM FOR TOKYO

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paralympic athlete Tatyana McFadden poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.

By Stuart Lieberman, Team USA

Historically, Team USA has impressed across all classifications in track and field at the Paralympic Games, and this year in Tokyo it is expected to be no different. U.S. Paralympics Track and Field announced on Thursday the 26 women who will represent Team USA this summer, following their top performances at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis.

The roster will be headlined by five Paralympic champions — Breanna Clark, Cheri Madsen, Tatyana McFadden, Amanda McGrory and Deja Young — in addition to rising star sprinters Femita Ayanbeku, Brittni Mason and Alexa Halko.

McFadden is a 17-time Paralympic medalist and the winner of 22 World Marathon Majors, aiming to compete in five wheelchair racing events in Tokyo. Her story from a Russian orphanage to Paralympic prodigy has been told time and time again, as she has been competing at the Games since she made her debut at 15 in 2004.

“I have a really busy full schedule ahead, so I’m going to take it event by event,” McFadden said. “I really hope with the increased broadcast coverage and media attention people will be tuning in to watch the athletes in Tokyo. It’s really great preparation in the lead-up to L.A. hosting the Paralympic Games in 2028, too, so people can get to know the Paralympic athletes.”

McFadden will be joined by two fellow veteran athletes at the start line in the T54 class in eight-time Paralympic medalist Madsen and seven-time Paralympic medalist McGrory. Washington state natives Susannah Scaroni, now a three-time Paralympian after winning the 1,500 and 5,000 at trials, and up-and-coming 18-year-old Hannah Dederick, who beat Madsen by one-hundredth of a second in the 100 at trials, will also be in Tokyo to challenge her. McFadden, Scaroni and McGrory are all products of the University of Illinois wheelchair racing program, which Dederick will be entering in the fall after she competes in Tokyo.

Paralympic champion Young and world-record holder Mason both cracked the squad and are expected to produce a fierce rivalry in the T47 sprints. Young won both the 100 and 200 at the last Paralympic Games in Rio, but Mason, a quick riser in the sport, took both event titles at trials.

“Deja and I always push each other to the finish line,” Mason said. “It’s amazing to see that we are now getting that same level playing field that the Olympics are getting and I’m really glad I’m a part of this growth leading into Tokyo.”

Team USA will be stacked in the T64 sprints, starting with Boston’s Ayanbeku who at trials broke four-time Paralympian April Holmes’ 15-year-old American record, clocking 12.84, only two-tenths shy of the world record. Then there’s Beatriz Hatz and Sydney Barta who will both be making their Paralympic debuts. Hatz, the 2018 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High School Female Athlete of the Year has two junior world titles to her name and won the 200 in Minneapolis. Barta was a two-time gold medalist at the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships.

Los Angeles native Clark was the first U.S. woman with an intellectual disability to win a Paralympic medal when she handily took gold in the 400 in Rio, and Halko won three Paralympic medals there when she was the youngest member of the team at 16.

Click here to read the full article on Team USA.

For handcyclist Oz Sanchez, Paralympic success is a ‘testament to the person I’ve become’

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Oz Sanchez on his handcycle getting ready for the Paralympic games

By George Ramsay, CNN

Throughout his life, cycling has been a form of solace for Oz Sanchez. From the age of 12 or 13, he remembers being out on a bike even in the small hours. “I would leave the house sometimes at two or three in the morning for whatever frustrations I was dealing with and just ride under the moonlight in the local hills and mountains,” Sanchez tells CNN Sport. That may have been more than 30 years ago, and the bike he rides today may be different to the mountain bike he rode as a kid, but the allure of the sport remains the same.

These days, cycling is also his career. One of the top handcyclists in the world, Sanchez is a six-time medalist across three Paralympic Games and also has multiple world championship titles. It was in the years following a spinal cord injury, sustained during a motorcycle accident in 2001, that Sanchez discovered handcycling; the impact the sport had on his life was immediate. “When I first started riding, literally just going around the block was a feat in and of itself,” he says. “But it made me feel so alive because of the adrenaline and the blood pumping and just the feel-good chemicals of working out. “It became addictive, but it was all still mostly just the idea of getting out of the house and releasing my frustrations with my broken back and the accident.”

‘The journey, not the destination’

Having joined the US Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of transferring to the Navy as a Navy SEAL at the time of the accident.

“We’re talking about a transition from special operations, kicking doors and hostage rescue type mentalities of military operations to now: you broke your back, you did some permanent damage, you’re never going to walk again,” says Sanchez.

“I mean, the idea of me being competitive at any level at that point wasn’t on my mind at all. It was literally just so I can get out of the house and keep me from going insane.”
But over the years, Sanchez gradually transitioned into racing and was introduced to the US Paralympic team ahead of Beijing 2008.

There, he won gold in the time trial and bronze in the road race. Two Games and four more medals later, he’s now preparing to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics, noting that the way he’s viewed his success has changed over the years.

“I felt so utterly broken and worthless because of my interpretation and perception of my being an individual with a disability who can’t walk, those medals meant I was still a successful person and therefore I was worthy because of those medals,” says Sanchez, reflecting on how he felt after his first Paralympics.
“But now, I no longer contend with that depression and those ways of thinking. My body might be broken per se, but I am not broken. And so now, the medals are more of a testament to the person I’ve become.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

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  1. 2021 ERG & Council Conference
    September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
  2. The Arc’s 2021 National Convention
    September 27, 2021 - September 29, 2021