While reading through my feed reader at work Wednesday night, I came across a post on MMO Melting Pot that immediately drew me in. It’s a post about disabled gamers and in it Rebecca referred to the blog where she first heard about it and then she linked to the forum thread that started it all. Well I not only read every word that Rebecca wrote, I also followed the link to The Rusty Blade and the link to the original thread on the WoW forums and I read all of those words too. Then I read through some of them again and my heart filled with pride.
It’s really hard to explain my emotions about a subject such as this one. I have no physical or mental disabilities and I don’t personally know anyone who is a WoW player and has physical or mental disabilities. But I do have people in my life who have faced / are facing these types of challenges and loving them and having them love me is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes just writing about it now. I have been so blessed to have the chance to be a part of their lives. I know it’s a sensitive subject and I’m discovering it’s quite hard to write about and make sure I don’t say anything that could be viewed as politically incorrect. But I’m going to give it a try as I give you a brief history of 2 very special family members of mine.
I don’t remember the first time I happened across someone who was physically handicapped because my Uncle Larry on my mom’s side became a paraplegic years before I was ever born and I just grew up being used to seeing him. I never realized until I was much older that most people don’t know anyone who is in a wheelchair. Larry (leaving off the Uncle just to speed things along) was a twin and those boys were tall, good-looking, athletic, strapping young men growing up. They were the stars of every sport team in school and according to mom, who went through high school 3 years behind them, every girl in school swooned when they strutted by. After graduation, Larry joined the military and felt himself being called to minister. He became a Baptist preacher while simultaneously training to fly helicopters; he married and had a baby on the way. Life was good. The day before the official ceremony to present him and the rest of his class with their wings, a tornado struck the married housing area of the military base where he was stationed. He was home alone at the time and the tornado picked up the trailer house he was in and tossed him out the front door. He landed on his back across the stump of a tree that had been ripped away seconds before. I did not go through any of this as I had not yet been born. I cannot speak for how the next few years of his life went. I’m sure he wasn’t happy every single day. But by the time I knew him, he had found his way back to a place where he was happy every day. He was such a strong figure, even sitting in a wheelchair you knew he was larger than life. He had the best laugh and he was so kind. He never wanted special treatment, he never wanted us to carry everything for him, he never acted like he was disabled. And so none of us ever thought of him that way. He always had a joke and a smile and he loved making us kids compete against each other for the chance to take his wheelchair for a spin around the house. Unfortunately his body continued to betray him and he died years ago at the fairly young age of 61 due to internal organ failure. I miss him and I owe him a lot. Because I grew up with someone who so completely ignored his disability and made it a non-issue, I don’t feel awkward or wonder how to act when I come in contact with other physically disabled people. That is such a great gift.
And this gorgeous young man is my cousin Austin. He will be 14 years old this year. Wow, I just realized that and it’s so hard to believe we’ve been graced with his presence for so long. Austin was due to be born a day or two after Thanksgiving but the little booger got impatient and decided to join the world in the second week of September. Being a little over 2 months premature caused all sort of issues for the little guy. His problems are all very technical and hard to explain. Although the doctors know it’s not technically correct, they just agree to say he has cerebral palsy and autism. It comes close to describing the challenges he faces without needing a lot of extra explanation. His extremely premature birth caused hydrocephalus which causes him to suffer with headaches and to help relieve this condition he has a drainage tube implanted in his head to drain the excess fluid down into his stomach. We almost lost him (more than once) the last time they had to go in and re-size the drain because it is brain surgery and he had several complications. What should have been a fairly routine surgery ended up being 3 emergency brain surgeries in 2 days because of a bleed. This shunt has to be replaced every several years as he grows, so as scary as it was last time he will have to undergo the process at least once more before he reaches adulthood.
But enough of the medical stuff, let me tell you about Mr. Smiley Pants and his attitude. Austin absolutely lights up any room he ever enters. You see in the picture that he is in a wheelchair, but that’s only for places where we need to be efficient. This picture was taken at a family wedding last fall. Around the house he either crawls or uses a walker while wearing leg braces. And he doesn’t care which of these 3 travel methods he has to use, he just wants to come over to where the crowd is and entertain us. It’s amazing to see how his brain works and the types of things he’s capable of learning and doing. While he’ll never write a paper or work a math problem he does attend public school and can count to 30 in Spanish (I can only get to 10), repeat back any song he ever hears (whether it’s from Barney or Lady Gaga), he tells knock knock jokes and he has the most beautiful laugh you will ever hear in your life. I am one of his favorite people in the world, which just overflows my heart with pride. Actually, I’m also one of the few people who can get him to listen and mind. He is 13 after all, he tends to do things he was told not to and get himself in trouble. While his mom and everyone else can tell him to stop until they’re blue in the face all I have to do is say “Austin Blake” firmly and he will immediately look at me and say “what”. I say “please stop” (or whatever is appropriate) and I get an immediate “I’m sorry Kristy”. It makes his mom so mad, lol. She even called me once to talk to him on the phone because she couldn’t get his attention. I wish you all could know Austin the way I do because he is happy to see every person he ever sees. He’s the kid you see at the store who’s got a huge smile on his face and just looking around everywhere all at once saying “hi”, “hello”, “what’s your name”. He makes me feel so special.
Okay, so this ended up not being about WoW and I apologize for that. I kind of got lost in my own little world there. But it’s only because the idea of disabled gamers getting a community website to offer help and support to each other is just an amazing idea. I’m positive there are plenty of people out there who can recommend certain equipment or software to make things easier. Not to mention just helpful hints about how to do keybindings for spells and easier rotations. Just knowing you are not alone in the world and there is someone out there who understands exactly how you feel can be so empowering. Any way at all to completely make everyone who plays this game comfortable and feel like they belong is very important. I absolutely support this idea and I hope it actually gets acted on.