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Combining volunteering with your hobbies to make a difference

Image of the volunteers week logo, with 40th anniversary strap line

Image shows: Volunteers week logo with 40th anniversary strapline.

Craig Brett, age 33 at the time of writing, has Leber Congenital Amaurosis. Craig works full-time as a software engineer and is also a volunteer, helping to run RNIB’s Connect group in the east of England for online gaming.

How Craig has influenced the gaming industry

“We set up a Connect Group for gaming, in the east of England, that’s been running for a couple of years now. There are about 15 people in the group, but nationwide there’s close to 50. The first group started in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Gaming as a way to escape reality

Gaming is my main hobby, and outside work, I like to play daily. I've been gaming since I was six, going all the way back to the Sega Master System.

Gaming is a great place to escape to when the real world is just not working out, which happens more often than not, when you're visually impaired. And when a game is accessible, it's a great leveller. I've learned now that I can't do all these sorts of things like play football, or build a house. But in the game, I can. I think it’s really important for mental health - as both a focus and a break from your day-to-day world - you get to be somewhere else.

Image of Craig Brett

Image shows: Craig is smiling at the camera. He is wearing glasses and a white top with a blue collar.

Bonding through gaming

Whether you know someone or not, gaming is an activity to bond, a social thing and a shared cultural experience. Gaming is important, and I feel that everyone should have the ability to game as much as they want. I really want people to have equal access to gaming and that’s why I started volunteering.

Sharing gaming experience

We have ad hoc events where we all do some gaming together. We'll normally try and look for accessible games that will appeal to partially sighted or blind people, which is quite a challenge. But we also do meetups where we talk about our experiences of gaming.

We've taken Desert Island Discs and applied it to gaming - so each month someone will talk about the games that made up their life. It's really good to just spend some time talking about gaming and socialising. Also, we use that time to share industry news. The group is a product of its time, it formed during COVID because isolation was a real problem for people.

Rising awareness of accessibility in games

I think more noise in the industry is helping to make games accessible. There's definitely more pressure on the industry - game developers are starting to include more accessibility features in their games. At the same time, screen-reading technology has improved, so I can now play some games that have not considered partially sighted people at all.

Helping to influence the industry

Games companies, who are not aware of sight loss at all, are now reaching out to RNIB saying that they want to include more people with vision impairment in their testing. RNIB is able to bring together developers and blind and partially sighted gamers through Connect groups. We go into the game studios and play testing games with them, showing them what we would do to adapt to something. So we help the game studios come up with new remedies around these accessibility issues. I've gone to a company called ‘Creative Assembly’, based in Horsham. They were particularly keen to see how colour blindness settings would influence how easily their product was used.

Making a difference

Five years ago, we were asking for things to be more accessible, and no one was listening to us but now people are starting to. We did a recent push for Accessibility Awareness Day, where we did several games, streams, and some events. We also did a couple of podcast episodes, to try and raise awareness around these things, using the connect groups as a way to advertise and get some volunteers. When the title does get announced with accessibility features or a console implementing accessibility features, you do think maybe I helped a bit.

Seeing connections develop

We manage a nationwide discord server as well, and it's been really good to see people making connections. I'd recommend it to other visually impaired people that want to set up groups in their area. I would love more people to set up groups like this. It's very much seeing it grow, you get a little buzz of oh, I helped make this happen.”