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Pokémon Go? Not with Disabilities.

Pokemon Go symbol with a red X sign over the O in Go.

Just like everyone else, I jumped on the cute monster-catching bandwagon the minute it became available. I crowed with delight at the Charmander appearing in my bedroom when I started Pokémon GO, and had an early fondness for Rattatas and Pidgeys infesting my house… at least until I caught enough of them to stage two full teams in a home football league.

Car rides with my husband became full of good-natured complaints as I asked to pull over for PokéStops, or started excitedly babbling about turning toward some Pokémon I’d never seen before. I made sure to take my phone with me and use some in-game incense on short backyard walks, and even moped on rainy days like one of the kids in The Cat in the Hat.

I even, like the kids in The Cat in the Hat, ended up having a bit of an adventure:

Real life Pokémon are hard, y’all.

And yet… I have not opened the game app in over two weeks now.

You see, I am a gamer with disabilities. I have a serious hip injury that prevents walking any significant distance, and I also suffer from fibromyalgia and traumatic arthritis. The days I am able to leave the house are a vanishing pleasure, inconsistently available and therefore reserved for important errands.

Niantic and Pokémon GO apparently don’t care about gamers like me.

I can’t walk miles to hatch eggs, which is something that gets you some rare Pokémon and helps you level. I can’t hare off on adventure when I spot a Pokémon nearby on the map. I can’t nip up to a gym to battle or defend it at a moment’s notice like my brother can. I can’t even spend time down at the hottest Pokémon spots in my city, where I might actually get to meet new people and socialize as well as keep my Poké Balls topped off and catch new Pokémon. I also can’t spend tons of money on gas, so riding around at 20 MPH to hatch eggs or catch Pokémon near roadways are not viable hacks for me. (Nor are those environmentally-friendly choices.)

I’m not the only gamer so badly disappointed, though you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream.

The Daily Dot wrote about Pokemon GO‘s barriers to players with disabilities a month ago, particularly citing the experience of Alyx, posting on the Tumblr Disability Health. Kotaku covered it, as did Emily Coday at The Mighty (from personal experience) and Julia Alexander at Polygon. Many of these articles feature comments from Steve Spohn of AbleGamers (an excellent charity and advocacy organization for gamers with disabilities).

Brian Conklin over at Unstoppable Gamer made the best of a bad lot, writing about ways gamers with disabilities could improve their Pokémon GO experience with the tools at hand. Then there was a series of unfortunately-titled articles like this one: “People Have Already Figured Out How To Cheat at Pokémon GO.” Well, Mr. Hale, you say “cheat,” I say “a creative way for gamers with disabilities to maybe play more effectively.” We can’t all be able-bodied.

Niantic has not responded to any of the points raised regarding Pokémon GO‘s accessibility trouble – not on their blog, nor in other responses outlined at Touch Arcade. Gamers with disabilities are not a priority, and our voices are not loud enough to garner even a harried “we’re working on it” throwaway comment.

What Niantic has done is go after tracking services that made it easier for gamers with disabilities to zero in on Pokémon, and introduce lifetime bans for those caught “cheating.” (Thanks for the coverage, TechCrunch.)

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. Those early days of Pokémon GO brought a flash of joy and whimsy to days so often spent in pain and relative isolation. I’ve considered uninstalling Pokémon GO from my phone, but I’m hanging on to hope still – despite its accessibility flaws, despite its game flaws (more on that another time), I still had fun with it. Maybe giving up on a game that never had time for you is the best choice, but I’m going to give Niantic a little more time to not be gigantic jerks.

If you are a gamer with disabilities, or a person who cares about an accessible world – and, really, that should be all of you – please take a moment and contact Niantic about making Pokémon GO a more accessible game for everyone. Do this even if you don’t play Pokémon GO. You can contact Niantic publicly the following ways:

On Facebook at PokemonGo or NianticLabs.
On Twitter @PokemonGoApp or @NianticLabs.

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