Fighting Social Isolation

AbleGamers offers extensive programs and opportunities for people with disabilities to get involved in gaming. We believe that the power of play is a revolutionary tool to empower people with disabilities and to fight social isolation. Combating social isolation is at the heart of our mission. We provide give opportunities for connection and amplify disabled voices in order to fight the stigmas surrounding disability and the effects of chronic isolation.

Social isolation is more than just an inconvenience or discomfort. Social isolation’s definition is “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships.” Put simply, social isolation occurs when someone is chronically disconnected and unable to participate with other people in the world around them. 

Humans are wired to be social creatures. Social interaction and connection aren’t bonus content for human life – we have a biological drive to be social that needs to be fulfilled for the sake of our health. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated social distancing and quarantine measures have fostered a greater understanding ofabout the psychology of social isolation and its health impacts, but there’s a long and storied history about the negative effects of social isolation. For people with disabilities, social isolation was an ongoing issue before COVID, and will continue to be an issue long after we get back to “Normal”. For decades, scientists, psychologists, and even space agencies have regularly conducted research on the effects of social isolation and how to combat its impacts. 

Social isolation isn’t just a hypothetical issue that could happen during space travel or a new problem created by the pandemic. For decades, experts have warned about the many negative impacts of being socially isolated and experiencing prolonged loneliness. 

  • Social isolation leads to poor health outcomes: social isolation creates a 12% average increase in mortality rates. For people enduring acute social isolation for extended periods, the effects are even more dramatic. 
    • Highly socially isolated people who are isolated for a month have worse healthcare outcomes than people who smoke 15 cigarettes a day.
    • People experiencing chronic loneliness and social isolation can experience up to a 30% increase in stroke and heart disease risk. 
    • Social isolation can also have startling long-term effects on cognition, with research showing that people who endure chronic isolation are at a 40% higher risk of developing dementia. 
  • Social isolation and mental health: the mental and emotional impacts of social isolation are widely considered to be severe and pervasive. Sleep issues, self harm, depression, and anxiety are reported commonly by people enduring social isolation. 

Elderly people and people with disabilities are at the most risk of being socially isolated, factors that are often compounded by poverty.

  • In the United States, half of households that make under $30k in annual income have a person with a disability. Estimates show that 35-45% of people with disabilities qualify as “highly socially isolated.” 
  • This isolation is both professional and personal. Laws in the United States that make it difficult for some disabled people to work, even if they are willing and able. 

Technology is an important way that people can mitigate social isolation. Though there are coping strategies and resilience tactics that people have leaned on to cope with isolation, like video calls or Zoom parties, people with disabilities face extraordinary challenges in coping with social isolation if that technology is not accessible or adaptive. It’s significantly harder to work through social isolation when the tools designed to help people with that dilemma are inaccessible to you, putting people with disabilities in an unwinnable situation.

Why gaming? Why accessible gaming? 

Play is a powerful solution for people who face social isolation, and it is especially important for people with disabilities. Video games unite people through shared experiences and lead to friendships and connection across the globe. It is an activity that can be done even if you are physically alone. Gaming serves as a window into the rest of the world where you can connect with people completely free of geographic constraints or physical location. The digital nature of online gaming allows for everyone to participate without the need to physically be at the same location, eliminating many barriers that lead to isolating circumstances. The vibrant gaming community is known to create lifelong friends and great groups, and so by playing video games, people with disabilities are empowered and socially connected. 

Participating in the video gaming community also gives people with disabilities an opportunity to share their stories and experiences to break down stigma and increase accessibility, cultivate personal enablement, increase understanding, and develop inclusion with other players. AbleGamers highlights players with disabilities on our Twitch stream page so that we can share the unique lives and experiences of people with disabilities in the gaming world. 

All of the work that AbleGamers does is centered around empowering people with disabilities who are at high risk of the negative impacts of social isolation. We’ve created the largest community of people with disabilities in gaming, and by helping them get in the game, we’ve given them the space to share, thrive, and connect. 

People with disabilities can face all kinds of barriers to getting in the game, from equipment to community accessibility issues. We work hard to connect people with disabilities to peer counselors and create solutions. Fixes like custom hardware can be incredibly costly and we try to offer as many grants as possible. Please click here to make a tax-deductible donation to AbleGamers so that we can continue to fight social isolation for people with disabilities.