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May 18, 2023 30 mins
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Welcome the Pulse of the Region,brought to you by the Metro Hartford Alliance.
The Metro Hartford Alliance collaborates with investorsand partners to elevate the Hartford region
through economic development work, convening thecommunity around share challenges, and providing local
chamber support. Learn more about theirmission and how to get involved at Metro
Hartford dot com. Pulse of theRegion is produced in partnership with o'kill.

Originally founded as a school for theblind in eighteen ninety three, OKILL has
provided holistic, person centered services forindividuals with disabilities for over one hundred and
thirty years. With empowerment and independenceas its guiding principles, OKILL works in
partnership with the individuals it serves toprovide residential education and enrichment opportunities. Learn

more at okkillct dot org. Nowhere's your host for Pulse of the Region,
Kate Bowman. Hello, Hello,and welcome back to another episode of
Pulse of the Region. I'm yourhost, Kate Balman. Here today in
the media studios that candy Cane buildingwe all see in our capital city of
Hartford. We're here. I havepeople smiling back at me in studio.

So it's a great day here,and I'm so excited to have both of
our organizations, both our guests ontoday who are so experienced within this field
and are seeing a day to dayimpact here. So without further ado,
first from the NEAT Center at OakHill is Kristin Gilfeather. She is the
assist of Technology specialist. So,Kristen, welcome to Pulse of the Region.
Thank you, so nice to behere. It's great to have you

here. Again. I don't alwaysget people here in person, so it's
lovely when people you know respond backto you right face to face. So,
and our second guest is joining usfrom Connecticut Children's Medical Center. She
is the child Life, Gaming andTechnology Specialist, Annie Goldsnyder. So,
Annie, welcome to the show.Hi, thank you for having me.
It's so exciting. Years I knowI was gonna say, it's a fun

little day something hopefully a little bitdifferent than your day to day to switch
it up. Such it up,I like it. I like it.
So first things first, I thinkboth of your organizations are very well known
to our audience. But I thinkit's always good sometimes for a refresher and
Kristen I'm gonna have you start too, because Okill, we hear about every
single week here on Pulse of theRegion. Is there such a great partner

to the show. But you're withthe NEAT Center, which doesn't always get
the top highlights. So I wouldlove if you could talk about the center
today. Sure. So, theNEAT Center is underneath Okill. We have
two primary or main focuses, onebeing assistive technology and one being AAC.
We also do a bunch of otherservices, but where I work is in

the at slash AAC side and primarilywe work with special education students or individuals
with disabilities. We go into schoolsystems, we work with other agencies throughout
the state, helping people be moreindependent and have more freedom to do whatever

it is that they want to do. That's great, that's fantastic. Well
excite to learn more about that.I'm kind of what you're doing day to
day. So but first, Annie, a lot of people know Connecticut Children's
Medical Center. But if you don'tmind giving a refresher about the organization,
Sure So. Connecticut Children's is achildren's hospital in Hartford. It is one

hundred day seven beds, not forprofit. We are the only dedicated children's
hospital free standing hospital in CONNECTICUTKA andonly one of two in New England.
So yeah, kids are our thing, and I personally service about like one
hundred and five ish of those bedsin the hospital, mostly in patient.

So anyone who's you know, stayingat least a night in the hospital,
those are the friends that I'm visitingwith. UM I sometimes work in outpatient
areas like our hematology oncology clinic aswell as our Family Resource center doing all
things gaming that in includes adaptive gaming. Okay, fantastic, Well, and
first things first is you know,you hear accessible gaming and you think kind

of think, I think there's alot of people that may not know what
that is. So Kristen, ifyou don't mind, first, let's give
us give you could give the definitionof that. Sure. So I think
everyone sort of has their own definitionof accessible gaming. But to me,
accessible gaming is making any type ofgaming, whether that's an Xbox game,
a PC game, a game onyour phone, accessible to people who have

different needs, whether that's a physicaldifference or a cognitive difference. There could
be so many different things that maycome into play with a person who is
gaming and there are ways to adaptor change the game to make it accessible,
or their method of accessing the gamethrough like the controller platform. Okay,

fantastic, And we'd like to hearfrom each of you on just what
does that look like in your organizationsand how are both of you using adaptive
game accessible gaming? And I've beentold which is you can kind of enter,
you know, use both words forthe same but a little bit different
there too. So why of Annie? First things first? Kind of Connecticut
Children's really, how are you youutilizing adaptive gaming? Yeah? So,

I mean you you mentioned that there'sa couple of different words to kind of
categorize what this entire realm that we'retalking about is. There's I think mainly
it's three a's, assistive, adaptive, accessible, all of those things.
In the gaming realm, you candive into the hardware side of making a

game accessible or the software side,and then sometimes those things blend really well
together to kind of make the perfector the most accessible version of a game
a really fun experience for a gamer. And so in the hospital, we
use both hardware and software. Ihave a growing inventory of tools and equipment

that I use, including m Ireally am a big advocate for the Microsoft
Xbox Adaptive Controller. Love that thing. It's the I might shorten it to
ZACH just for the purpose of nothaving to say those three very long where
over and over again. So ifI say that, that's what that means

and what is that? So theZACH is basically think of it like a
standard Xbox controller. It just looksdifferent. Okay, So on a standard
Xbox controller, you have buttons likeab xy, you have two thumbsticks,
you have a directional pad up,down, left, right, U,
you have some triggers, some bumbers. What the ZACK does is it has

all of those same buttons, butit also has additional inputs on all of
the sides of the controllers, sothat you can plug in things like joysticks
that you can move with your wrist, or you can hold down to a
joystick and move it. You canplug in things like pedals and button switches

and trader switches. There's so manydifferent great accessories that basically just plug into
this portal. I would say tosimulate the experience of using a standard Xbox
controller. So short way of definingthat it's the same thing as a standard
controller, it just looks different.Okay, Yeah, very neat and kind

of because you provide an example onyou know, when is something like this
used and you know you'd mentioned onehundred and five beds out of one hundred
and eighty seven that's a high percentageof you know, of patients participating in
yeah with this. So some ofthe patients that I've worked with, you
know, they have a either temporarydisability, they have a broken arm,

and they can't game the way thatthey used to. And I use gaming
in the hospital as a way tonormalize the hospital experience for patients. Being
in the hospital for anyone can bea little bit scary. So being able
to have something that's familiar to youas a way to cope with the feelings
that you have well being in thehospital is huge. So I use gaming

with patients who have temporary disabilities,cognitive delays, you know, low mobility
to be able to build confidence andwork on mastering something while they're in the
hospital. A lot of control istaken away from you when you're in the
hospital, especially as a kid.You don't get to choose when you eat,
what you eat, when you canget out of bed, the things

that you have, you know,immediate control over are taken away. So
being able to bring a gaming experience, you know, puts them in the
driver's seat of a video game.And so, for example, I had
a patient who I grew really closewith. UM. He has cerebral palsy

and so for those of you whodon't know, it's basically just a it's
a condition that limits some mobility UM. And so we used UM adaptive equipment
to be able to have us getvery competitive in Madden on the Xbox.
He's a huge football fanatic, andso we would go head to head UM

in a Madden game and basically hehad full range of his head and his
neck muscles and SOUM, we wereable to using his chair support and his
next support. UM he used tohe would play with his chin pressed down
on two buttons on his chest,pressed to the left of his head,

right of his head, back ofhis head and basically control UM different movements
in the game and completely embarrassed mein Madden and like let me out of
the water. And yeah, soUM, there's experiences like that where we
play against each other. There's experiencewhere I've play UM with someone and yeah,

it's really all about just um,you know, putting kids in the
driver's seat while they're in the hospital. That's literally and figuratively, I guess,
yeah, if we're playing Andre's adriving game then yeah, exactly,
yeah, exactly. That's incredible Andwould love to hear Christen on just how
is OKILL utilizing accessible gaming and ifyou could provide some examples there. Absolutely
so OKILL has a completely different perspectiveor approach I guess to accessible gaming because

we are coming at it from likemore of a long term perspective. UM.
So sometimes I will have individuals havea progressive condition and now they can't
game in the same way that theyused to be able to. Okay,
um, so we might look atthings like the Xbox adaptive controller like Annie
mentioned um to help create a systemthat they can now be able to play

that game or new games maybe evenum in the way that they miss playing.
UM. We all so at timeshave younger kids who want to be
able to game, but maybe there'ssomething going on with them, a physical
difference, a cognitive difference that's preventingthem from being able to game in the
traditional manner. And we will lookat different controllers, different games to help

them feel included. We have donea couple of different little events to help
promote inclusion with gaming. Gaming,I think something that people don't think about
often, but it promotes community.So whether you're gaming at home with your
siblings and your parents, or yourgaming on an online platform. You know,
for some older kids, it promotescommunity and inclusion. And it's it's

a hobby. It's it's an activitythat people can do for a leisure activity.
And unfortunately, when we think aboutpeople with physical disabilities and cognitive disabilities,
the typical leisure activities might not beavailable to them. So gaming is
something that is able to be modifiedand changed to meet their needs and then

you level the playing field. That'sI completely love that and that must boost
confidence like no other. If itcould talk a little bit about that impact
there, it sure does. Itboosts confidence and it helps empower them and
show them that they can be included. You know, one of my favorite
personal favorite games to play with kidsis Mario Kart. So I do still

use the Xbox Adaptive controller, butwith the Mario Kart game and um just
having students be able to maybe youknow, throw that banana peel or you
know, knock out there and knockout their friend or the computer you know
that that they're playing against or theirsiblingly, But yeah, that's um,

but yes it does empower them.And then the other thing that Yannie also
mentioned is you can work on otherskills. So I have worked with individuals
who really need to work on usingboth hands and being able to play a
game. You can position buttons andjoysticks in a way that promote that.
So I've I've worked alongside of occupationaltherapists who will say, we need to

work on this specific skill. Okay, well in this game, you need
to do this, So let's youknow, make it so we're kind of
coming together for a joint goal whereit's they're having fun, they're playing,
they're doing something they love, andthey're mastering that oti goal at the same
time, which is just win win. I was just gonna say, win

win all around. And you knowsort of like I can see it on
the smile on your faces too intelling those stories. So any if you
talk a little bit about the impactas well, because you know, it's
great to see kind of how thesame technology is being used both for short
term and long term. You knowchallenges and so if you could talk a
little bit on the short term side, what are you seeing? Yeah,

I mean, Chris, and youliterally picked like the words out of my
brain. It's so it's so interestingto see how our roles are so different
but so so so so similar.And yeah, so I I too,
you know, work alongside physical therapistsand occupational therapists to be able to Obviously,
in games, goals are huge,so like sometimes in games you literally

have objectives laid out for you,and so being able to work on goal
setting and mastery in achieving those goalsI think, and at least from you
know, a personal standpoint of beinga lifelong gamer, being able to hit
those goals and you know, worktowards something over time makes me feel better,

lifts my spirits and makes me feelaccomplished and confident. And so I
see that same result in patients thatI play video games with at the hospital,
and so, you know, beingable to promote this kind of lifting
of your spirits through video games,I feel that it also helps the healing

process. So when when kids areable to have higher spirits and feel more
motivated and excited to be involved intheir care plan. I think the results
are you know, measurable and definableto um, you know, give to

care teams and such. So umyeah, I feel like our roles a
line so much that um, youknow, we're doing very similar things.
Kristen and I Okay, that's great. And how long has it accessible gaming
kind of been around? I guessin each of your you know fields,
Chris and I'll start with you there. Um, I'm not sure exactly how

long it's been around for but acouple of years. Um, it started
before I joined the NEAT team,so um yeah, and it's constantly growing
and changing. So it's it's justamazing to kind of see it evolve.
And it's been around for a bitthough. Yeah, I would say it
definitely is evolving very very fast,especially with UM, you know, the

community advocating for gaming companies to includecertain settings and include UM accessibility features in
their games by default. I thinkthat advocacy is growing and that's huge.
UM. So I would say thatit's it's been around. Um the adaptive
controller from Xbox is on for maybelike five, six, seven years or

something. Don't know that off thetop of my head, bone that's right.
That I didn't know. I'm like, how new new is it?
Or has it been around for youknow, ten fifteen years and I've just
been living under a rock. No, there's been There's been, um,
you know, companies that have beenmaking switches and assistive technology for you know,
you know, decades or so,but like actually implementing that technology into

gaming where it actually provides an engagingexperience and not just a bare bones experience
I think has been more so likethe last handful of years. Okay,
yeah, well, and there isyou know, some people that sometimes look
at gaming as a negative and youknow, and you know, both nodding
your heads there where you know,certainly we've highlighted the positives, but would

like to touch on, you know, the flip side of the coin and
just kind of see what is beingsaid and also to kind of maybe your
you know, just reactions and seeingon a day to day basis. So
I know which one of you wantsto take that one first, but I
starts. So. I think thereare a lot of misconceptions around gaming,
and you know, there are somany games out there that I would not

play with certain kids or certain ages, right, But but that's what people
think of They think of the gamesthat are maybe more violent or geared towards
older kids, or geared towards anadult population, right, and so they
are just not aware of what elseis out there, and games like Mario

kar and Minecraft and things like that. People just they're not familiar. And
that's okay, but it can bea challenge to some times open up their
eyes and their minds to what isavailable and how powerful it can be for
students and kids. I think oneof the things that I run into a
lot is where do we implement thegaming and where does it start? Does

it start at home? Can itstart in a school environment. Maybe it
could be a club or an extracurricularthing at a school. I think another
thing that people don't realize is kidsare going to school for gaming kids.
It's humming professional gamers. It's abillion, more than a billion dollars industry
up broadcast, right, So it'sit's huge, it's and it's because it's

getting bigger and bigger every day.So I think that can be a little
bit of a challenge, just thefact that unfortunately sometimes people immediately go to
those violent, you know, lateeenadult games instead of recognizing some of the
other things that you know, alot of other things really that are available.
Right. No, such great pointsthere, anything you'd want to add

there? Ammy, Yeah, soyou mentioned, you know, where does
gaming start to start at home,to start at school? I think something
that even I experienced in my youknow, education, things are gamified all
the time to be able to createan engaging experience. I think that I
think that mode of gamifying things isjust changing because the technology is available to

us now. I have a lotof experience working with Minecraft for education and
teaching coding to kids. So Ithink it's in a fantastic, new innovative
way to be able to you know, interact with kids where they're at right
now. And so even like intherapy sessions with like pt and ot,

being able to gamify the session byeither using Nintendo Switch sports to be able
to promote movement or I'm like movingmy arms and you know, you're doing
a very good demonstration. People can'tsee, but you are, I'll vouch,
or you know, putting buttons ina place where they have to reach
to get them, you know,building strength by pressing down on a pill.

So like gamifying things isn't going togo away. And I think us
being in the field, we're justbeing creative with how we're using technology,
and so on the flip side ofthat, I think anything good obviously requires
moderation and having a harmonic balance withother things in your life. So,

you know, just as much asI don't really want to or shouldn't really
be sitting down and watching an entireseason of a show on Netflix for five
hours in an evening, I alsoprobably shouldn't be gaming for you know,
a certain amount of time without alsochecking the other things in my life,
right, And so I think thatmoderation is huge. And yeah, I

think there's a lot of misconceptions aboutvideo games and how they're used and who
they're marketed to, and I think, yeah, there's just ways to also
amplify the good things about video games. Yeah, which is what we're doing.
I was just gonna say, whichis this whole conversation so as we

look ahead and kind of the futureof accessible gaming, would love to get
each of your perspectives. I'm kindof what's coming next, so Chris and
would love your thoughts here. Imean, I think more acceptance, more
inclusion, more kind of like Anniewas saying, the game developers starting there,
you know, having the accessible featuresbuilt in. I was so excited

when I heard that Minecraft had atext to speech feature. So you downloaded
Minecraft and with you had to turnit off. It wasn't it wasn't something
that you had to go find ina setting somewhere. It was a feature
that they said, you know,is available now and by default, and
you can turn it off. Sothat just opens up the world to so
many people to be able to accessthat game without anything else. Sometimes that's

all they need is that text tospeech to read them the direction or the
goals like Annie was talking about ofthe game. So that to me,
that's that's what's coming next, justmore acceptance and more games that are accessible.
How about you, Annie, Ithink um to kind of hit on
another popular buzz game right now too. Fortnite actually is doing something huge with

UM visual Cues. So obviously textto speech UM serves a certain population of
people with needs, UM visual cuesserves another population UM. So in the
game you hear, you know,being able to hear that your surroundings in
the game is critical to be ableto succeed in a match. Um,

so, whether you hear footsteps orum, you know, action happening to
the you know, northwest direction ofyou, or a chest with really incredible
loot right above your head. WhatFortnite does is on the screen without needing
any audio, you can actually see. It's kind of like a compass.

It like directs you in the wayof where those sounds are coming from,
you know, so that you candirect yourself accordingly and come up with the
best strat to get yourself into orout of certain situations in the game.
And so I think those things arebecoming more and more popular. And I
think again, just more advocacy,will, you know, make those things

more available to more gamers. So, yeah, the future is very bright.
I think as long as we continueto you know, push game companies
as well as hardware manufacturers to continueto create accessible experiences, the more gamers
the better, right, Yeah.Well, and for the companies, yeah

say, well for the companies,but even just for individuals and families.
So that's you know, you saidit perfectly, Christen, and both of
you said, but you put everyone, puts everyone on an even playing field,
which I think so valuable across theboard. And you know, so
with that is certainly, how dowe kind of work with these companies?
What can we as a community do? I guess to continue to make sure
that you were in supporting accessible gaming, Chris, and I'll have you start

there. I mean, I think, like Annie said, it's all about
advocating for it to those companies.If there's a game that you know you're
interested in that you're not playing,you know you're not able to play,
or you recognize they don't have thesefeatures, I think it's all about advocating.
If if the accessible voices and peoplewho support accessibility can come together and
be one voice, then we're somuch more powerful than just advocating for text

to speech or just advocating for visualcues. When you kind of divide everybody
up, it becomes such a smalleror a much smaller group of people.
And you know, and if wecould all just come together and advocate for
accessibility as a whole, I thinkthat it would be much more powerful and
we would be able to see changes. That's great. Yeah, I do

also think that many companies are alsolooking for that feedback. I know Microsoft
is a lot of work actually bringingin people from you know, the disabled
community of gamers to give them feedbackon how their games are. So they
are actually you know, they're notworking with you know, people that don't

have disabilities. They're working with peoplethat have experience and have the kind of
um, you know, best usecases and things and suggestions and such.
So yeah, I know Microsoft doesa really great job of working with people,
so it is possible and it isreally significant for companies to be able

to do that. So yeah,feedback, there's feedback like in channel stuff.
So in the games you can requesterrors or bugs. A lot of
things with on the software side,like bugs or glitches come up with assistive
technology or like UM settings and accessibilitythings. So being able to report when

things aren't happening with the way they'resupposed to happening. You know, people
don't know that there's issues and unlessthey're spoken up about. So yeah,
fantastic, Well would like to hearwhere can people learn more just about you
know, kind of on both sidesof it. So any where can people
learn more about what Connecticut Children's isdoing. Yeah, So my role as

the Childlife Gaming and Technology Specialist isactually funded by a fantastic charity called Child's
Play charity there. You know,main purpose is to bring gaming and technology
into hospitals and domestic violence shelters sothat you know, technology and gaming can

be a part of the healing process. So Child's Play actually their website is
Child's Play Charity dot org. Theyhost a right now, we're on our
third year. Third the third Symposiumis happening in September. That's basically just

a large summit where we talk aboutpediatric gaming and technology. And so yeah,
that's happening later in September. Keepan eye out for that. But
um, on the more developers side, people who want to jump into learning
more about accessible technology in gaming,there's a Microsoft Learn platform that hosts a

learning path course called Gaming Accessibility FundamentalsUM. And so it kind of it's
great for developers to know what tobuild into their game, but also as
just someone who uses the technology likemyself, I've found great use in just
knowing where to find things or whatto look for or you know, creative

ways to implement what companies like Microsoftare building into their software. So yeah,
I would say check out that learningpath perfect, no great resources there,
Yeah, thank you so much forthat. Yeah, and as far
as Connecticut Children's um the My roleagain is funded by Child's Play and I

don't think we have a link yetfor anything my role related on the hospital
side, but yeah, coming soon, right, fantastic. And o'k Hill
has an event coming up, Ibelieve, right, yes we do.
So we have the Eighties Summit whichis coming up on June ninth, which
is a Friday. We are doingall things a syste of technology. There's

going to be a system of technologyout to kind of get a hands on
experience. We're gonna have some presentationsand of course we're going to have a
gaming setup as well, nice tokind of show off some accessible gaming,
which I'm really excited about. Verycool. And so where could people go
to learn more about that event?Sure? So. Neat's website is Assistive

Technology dot OKILLCT dot org. Perfect. Well, ladies, thank you so
much for one being here with metoday. But to just the information,
I know I learned a lot today, and so certainly in terms of the
advocacy side, both of you definitelydid above and beyond your jobs today.
So thank you so much. Thankyou, of course, and as we
close out today's show, we wouldlike to welcome a new investor to the

MHA. We refer to our membersas investors because they're investing in the work
we are doing to help promote theregion. Today, we welcome Hertford's Camp
Current as the oldest, oldest andlargest free summer day camp in the nation.
Camp Current's mission is to provide Hartfordchildren with equal opportunity to participate in
recreational and educational experience audiences that balancefun within Richmond while expanding horizons, instilling

confidence, promoting healthy lifestyle choices,and inspiring big dreams for the future.
For more information, you can visitCampcurrent dot com, and for all the
details about today's show, you cango to metro Hartford dot com. As
always, we love to say thankyou to our partner Okhill and especially a
great day today having you on theshow. Last, but not least,

thanks to you for listening. I'mKate Bowman. Go out and make today
a good day here in Connecticut.
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