When You Can't "Catch 'em All": Overcoming Social Isolation As an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

07/20/2016

William Reuschel and Aaron Preece look at an iPhone while guide dog Joel looks at a Pidgey

Image: Left to right, William Reuschel stands with Aaron Preece, looking at an iPhone, while Aaron's guide dog, Joel, appears to look for a Pidgey.

It's time to dust off the old Gameboy, find the faded trading cards, and watch cartoons starring Ash Ketchum because Pokémon is making a HUGE comeback. The makers of Pokémon, Nintendo America, in cooperation with Niantic Labs, have introduced a new mobile app game, Pokémon Go. This international craze has taken over the world. It is in the news, on social media, and all over town.

But what if you are missing out because of your visual impairment? What if you can't "catch 'em all"?

Being blind or visually impaired can often be very isolating. You can feel left out and left behind socially, physically, and emotionally. But you can't let the seeds of doubt discourage you. You must embrace who you are and find ways to join in on the fun.

While the game is not very accessible, there are ways you can make gameplay more socially inclusive. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Take a Friend and Join the Hunt. My favorite part of the game is tracking new Pokémon. It is fun to get out, walk around, and discover new items and characters to add to your collection. Ask a sighted friend to join you in your Pokémon quest. When you hear the sound of a new Pokémon, ask your friend to describe the character to learn more about its class and abilities. With proper and safe orientation and mobility skills, you can help your friends hunt down your favorite Pokémon.

  • Organize a Pokémon Go Outing. This past weekend, I was invited to a "Pokémon Go Walkabout" at the local park. A large group of community members came together to catch Pokémon, compare their collections, and plan to take over all the local Pokémon Gyms. These outings are a great way to make new friends and share a common interest. You can get involved by organizing one of these events in your community.

  • Become an Expert. If you are a long-time fan of Pokémon, this would be great for you. Become the expert on all the original Pokémon. Help your social circle learn the evolution of each character and how to create the strongest Pokémon. Your expertise in strategy can be an asset to your friends and other players.

  • Advocate for Accessibility. Pokémon Go isn't accessible right now, but it could be in the future, if enough people convince the developer that accessibility is important. Read more about the changes that need to be made here. Contact or tweet @NintendoAmerica and @NianticLabs to ask them to make the necessary game changes so people who are blind or visually impaired can play. Encourage your friends to do this too. They can explain to the game developers how important it is to them that you be included in their Pokémon adventures.

Pokémon Go is a social phenomenon, and with some persistence and creativity, you don't need to be left out of the fun. How are you involved in the Pokémon Go craze? Let us know in the comment section below.