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Blind video gamer gaining international followers, advocating for more accessibility

By Kate Valentine, KSL TV | Posted - Oct. 17, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — “Call of Duty” is a fast paced, first-person shooter game enjoyed by millions of gamers. Gamers like TJ. But unlike the millions, TJ’s gaming is drastically different. TJ can’t see what’s happening on the screen.

“I’m listening for footsteps and for any gun shots,” TJ said.

Instead, TJ plays completely off sound.

TJ was born at 24 weeks. He was so small he fit into the palm of a hand, weighing only 1 pound 13 ounces. TJ spent the first five months of his life in the NICU and had dozens of surgeries, mainly on his eyes. He lost vision in his left eye at age 5, and at 14 years old he lost vision in his right eye. He was left completely blind and only able to sense light.

TJ felt hopeless and depression set in. His mom, Dawn, encouraged him to find something.

“You can’t just sit in the dark and let it consume you,” Dawn said.

TJ decided to give video games a try. His younger brother helped him memorize all the game menus so he could start a match on his own. Then he spent months memorizing the sound of every weapon so he could play with friends. If he knows what weapons his friends are using, he can determine what is friendly fire and what isn’t.

Recently, TJ hit 10,000 kills on “Call of Duty: World War II” and he’s gaining worldwide attention online as TJ the Blind Gamer. He streams his play online for followers.

“I’m proud of myself at the very least,” TJ said.

TJ is using his new fame to help other blind gamers. He creates tutorials on Reddit and posts videos on Youtube teaching them what to listen for.

“You may not be able to see but that doesn’t mean you can’t find enjoyment,” TJ said.

Recently, TJ hit 10,000 kills on “Call of Duty: World War II” and he’s gaining worldwide attention online as TJ the Blind Gamer. Photo: KSL TV

TJ also uses vibration cues from controllers to help him determine what’s going on in the game. Even though he’s found success on his own, he’s advocating for more.

“The bottom line is the game isn’t accessible all the way, so people don’t want to try them,” TJ said.

TJ said more vibration cues and sound cues could help blind gamers even more. He’s also hoping for more realistic sound to be added to the game.

“You’re crouched beside a building shooting, the echoes would bounce off the wall to indicate you’re by a wall,” TJ said.

TJ isn’t going to let current limitations prevent him from playing now. And for anyone with disabilities who wants to try, TJ’s here, ready and willing to help.

“Don’t discount people with disabilities because they may be different,” Dawn said.

“Personally, I didn’t let that stop me,” TJ said.

TJ has met with gaming companies to give insight and ideas on how they can make their games more accessible for people with disabilities.

You can follow TJ on his: Facebook, YouTube, and on Twitch at tj_the_blind_gamer.

Kate Valentine

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