March 24, 2020
Brandon DiGia is a leader in the able gaming community. He’s an activist and speaker. He’s a legend among Warframe players. And in January 2020, he was named “Favorite Accessible Streamer” by “Can I Play That,” a publication focused on disabled gamers.
Ironically, though, he says it was the very accident that caused his paralysis that really drove him toward video games.
DiGia broke his C5 and C6 vertebrae 17 years ago when he dove into shallow water and hit a sandbar. The injury paralyzed him from the waist down and largely removed his control of his hands.
While he was a casual gamer before the injury, he concedes it wasn’t a hobby that took up a lot of his time. But once he finished rehabilitation from the injury and was in his chair, video games became more appealing.
“It wasn’t until I got home from the hospital that I realized ‘oh crap, disability is really boring’,” he says. “I saw video games as a natural fit for what was missing in my life. It wasn’t the social aspects. It was just being able to control the computer, have fun and forget that I’m disabled for a couple hours.”
Around 2010, he discovered EVE Online and became an active member of one of the game’s largest clans. After a few years, his minivan, which was modified for his power wheelchair, needed to be replaced. A national contest was offering one as a prize and he decided to ask the EVE Online community for help. It was the first time he’d identified himself as disabled to his fellow players.
“It turned into a huge thing,” he says. “Everybody wanted to help out and people were telling friends and coworkers. In that time, people were asking me ‘If you can’t move your hands, how are you able to play so well?’ so I made a quick and dirty YouTube video detailing my technology. Someone told me I’d make a good Twitch streamer and I said, ‘What’s Twitch?’.”
DiGia quickly learned about the streaming service and eventually joined. Today, he heads the Accessible Gamers Community on the platform, which has 276 members. And through that, he says, he’s seen some parallel experiences between people with accessibility issues and avid gamers.
“We welcome anyone with either a permanent or nonpermanent or visible or non-visible condition that prevents them from either playing or streaming like they want to,” he says. “A lot of gamers know what its like to be on the outside looking in at some point in their lives and I think, for that reason, a lot of gamers do find the accessibility movement appealing.”
One of DiGia’s favorite things about streaming and running the Accessible Gamers Community, he says, has been getting to know people in the accessibility community and learning more about how they play. Seeing how they’ve adapted to the challenge of playing video games and witnessing the pleasure they get from having control over how much, if any, other players know about their disability has been empowering.
“I’ve learned more about disabilities in one year working with this community than I did in 15 years as a quadriplegic,” he says.