When Brandon Amico entered his new stepson Thad's life, they created a lasting connection from playing video games together, like Halo or Smash Brothers. Thad loves gaming but has always struggled because he was born without a right hand.
"I would just be a lot slower at adapting and getting good, or just not good in general," Thad says.
In 2017, Amico read about the work that AbleGamers, a charity that works on behalf of disabled gamers, was doing to help people like him, so he reached out to them.
Thad, who's now 14-years-old, received a complimentary Xbox Elite controller, normally worth $150, which has programmable paddles on the back that allow him to use his left hand to control some of the finer right-hand movements of aiming and shooting. Now he excels at games like Rainbow Six Siege, where he regularly shines in ranked play.
Thad is one of many disabled gamers who've benefited over the past 17 years from the organizing work of AbleGamers, the most recognizable nonprofit organization for the disabled gaming community. Now, the organization's profile has gotten quite a bit larger.
After struggling like many nonprofits during the Covid-19 pandemic, AbleGamers chief operating officer Steven Spohn decided to do a birthday "Spawn Together" challenge. On September 15, 2020, his 40th birthday, he announced he was going to raise $1 million. Spohn says that keeping AbleGamers fully operational for a year takes approximately $2.2 million, so he wanted to make the challenge an annual event.
In November 2020, Twitch helped out by donating $1 million, money that Spohn says will go to hiring and distributing new controllers to disabled gamers like Thad.
"I think it was a combination of things that allowed the right atmosphere for this thundercloud of momentum to come," Spohn says.
Spohn vehemently denies his Twitter celeb status, but just before his big birthday announcement, he did a video with Ryan Reynolds. But Spohn chooses to think smaller in order to grow bigger: He brings together gamers and streamers and focuses on small-dollar donations to reach past his goal.
Misty "Imperialgrrl" Hungerford is a Twitch streamer and one of AbleGamers' Spawn Together fundraising "champions." Her 13-year-old son Alex has a disability, so she's keenly aware of the importance of the work AbleGamers is doing to make gaming accessible to everyone.
She says Spohn has been "really inspirational," and she is on board for 2021 and hopes to raise $50,000 as a Twitch ambassador.
Streamer Eleni, aka "Bloodyfaster," was another one of Spohn's champions, who used her platform to give disabled gamers a voice.