Joy to stick around at charity

Gaming charity helps disabled children

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Disabled children are being enabled to enjoy gaming as much as their peers thanks to a Manchester charity.

Everyone Can uses the latest gaming equipment, selected for its ability to be adapted for a range of disability types, without compromising on fun, to offer gaming sessions for disabled and non-disabled people alike.

‘Incredible feedback’

James is a teenager with autism and ADHD. Recently his mum started taking him to the gaming sessions with significant results.

“He initially just stuck with one or two people he met first, but he’s gradually playing more games with others,” she said. “I can see him approaching other people more, asking their names.”

Everyone Can is based in Sale, but it has its roots in the Aidis Trust, formed in Dorset back in 1975. Its aim was to use technology to assist disabled people, sparked by the case of a boy with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who was unable to use a pen. The trust was formed and members bought him an electric typewriter. Over the years, the Aidis Trust’s satellite office in Manchester became its main hub, and in 2018 it rebranded and opened the Sale centre.

The rebranding was driven by the success of a new scheme, taking gaming PCs with assistive technology controls out to local activity groups.

Julian Lee, Everyone Can’s general manager, said: “We found the feedback that we got from this was incredible. We’d see people who were running these activity groups with their mouths open wide. They’d say: ‘That child there jumping up and down with that other child – he doesn’t join in normally.’

“He’d usually walk in with his toys and sit in the corner, wouldn’t interact with what they’d put on or with any of the other children and young people there. So we were starting to see how inclusive gaming was.”

‘Socialising by stealth’

Today, alongside offering disability assessments and training workshops, Everyone Can operates its free-to-use gaming and technology centre, which attracts people from across Greater Manchester. Popular games including Rocket League, Gang Beasts and Just Dance can be played across a bank of screens in an open, comfortable space that’s geared towards interaction.

“It’s using a traditional template for playing video games,” said Lee. “When I was younger, there would be three or four of us going round to a mate’s house and playing together. We’ve sort of mirrored that here, but we’ve multiplied it a few times

“You can sit on a settee with three or four other people and then go to the next settee and there’s a different game, a different set of people.

“We’re here to help people to forge friendships, learn social skills and gain confidence. Some of the gamers who come here won’t go out to anywhere else, but their love of video gaming has drawn them out. It’s almost like socialising through stealth. The little interactions that they start having with the people around them grow and grow.”

With its banks of gaming equipment and spiralling energy bills, Everyone Can generates hefty running costs. The charity relies on assorted grants and donations and, consequently, Lee is keen to foster relationships with the North West’s thriving games industry. He feels this could be mutually beneficial.

“Of course, we would like support from them, but also we can help them and advise them, should they wish, on how to make their future games more accessible. In terms of how they can help us – a lot of the developers out there are charitable, but we are a cause that is unknown to many of them.

“In some ways what we do is very close to what they do. We just want to help other people take advantage of their products. We believe that because someone’s disabled, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to have access to the latest video games that everyone else can play.”

Everyone Can’s “socialising by stealth” approach is paying dividends for some regular visitors.

“There was one lad who, when he started coming here, was home-schooled,” said Lee. “He’s now back in school. His parents think coming here was a large contributing factor. It is a nice, gentle, fun way of getting into society.”

It’s an experience shared by James and his mum.

“James is aware that he is different to others and worries that people will comment on his tics, but he doesn’t have to worry about that here,” she said.

“He loves coming. It’s improved his confidence and feelings about other people liking him.

“He has something to look forward to, somewhere he can relax and be himself. It makes me happy to see him so happy.”

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