Re-Engage: An Occupational Therapist’s Journey to Accessible Gaming

September 30, 2019
Guest Expert

Bambi Lombardi, Clinical Therapy Specialist

Over the past few years, there’s been a big buzz in the video game industry about making games more accessible for individuals with all different kinds of disabilities. One of the biggest and most recognized advancements in hardware is the new Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft.

Erik Johnson, an occupational therapist and Chief Medical Officer for the non-profit, Warfighter Engaged, was one of the members on the team who helped conceptualize and beta test the controller. Erik got started with adaptive gaming while he was in the Army and serving as the Chief of the Occupational Therapy amputee program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

“As an occupational therapist, I’m always looking to normalize life and explore different ways to help people compensate for loss after an injury,” Johnson said. “During those first few sessions with new amputees, we would ask them what type of things they were concerned about since their injuries. Most of them would say that they wanted to be able to play video games.”

Erik said that for him, it all started there. He began exploring different ways to help people play games with limb loss by making adaptive splints and using non-traditional controllers. Warfighter Engaged was born out of those early sessions. 

He was invited to Microsoft to take part in a “hackathon” where the Xbox Adaptive Controller was first imagined, and a few years later, the product hit the shelves. Erik, now a professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, continues to push accessible gaming to the limits. On top of teaching young Occupational Therapy students his craft and sharing his passion for full engagement in life, you can find him at accessible gaming events around the country helping people re-engage in worlds that were previously not accessible to them.

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