The conference was nearly over. Exhibitors were packing up their displays and heading out.
A young man in a power wheelchair hovered in the open area between Luke 14 Exchange’s table and three others. I’d seen him around, but we’d never talked.
We nodded to one another and said “hello.” Joshua told me his mom needed to step away from her booth and asked him to monitor it for any last-minute visitors.
I am ashamed to say that after decades in disability ministry and being married to a very capable man born with cerebral palsy (CP) I made a snap judgement about Josh. “He must not be able to stay home alone and came with his mother. He’s probably just roamed the grounds for the last several days, having nothing else to do.”
I was thrilled to be wrong.
Jerry, noting Josh had similar physical characteristics of CP to himself as a young man, joined us. I think he had in mind pitching our mentoring or coaching services to Josh. Jerry later told me, “I want to be like Josh when I grow up.”
It took four months post-conference to get on Josh’s schedule for a Zoom call to learn more, because he was in the final stages of his doctoral work in Human Factors and Ergonomics, while also working with international companies on accessibility features within games.
After an hour of listening to and asking questions of Josh, Jerry and I were awed to learn more of his story. The phenomenal circumstances he encountered would prompt many to give up or turn away from their faith. But not this thirty-three-year-old-man who knew God created him for a purpose.
Josh is the youngest child in a family that values education and independence. Joshua’s birth with a disability (CP) did not change that. In fact, he noted, “only in the last six years had I needed to remind myself I have a disability.”
Since childhood, Josh considered careers in archeology, medieval history and literature, creative writing, and journalism. Graduating with his bachelor’s degree, he scheduled the exams (GREs) needed to enter grad school. When a debacle with the test site delayed the start of his post-graduate work, he turned to his hobby—gaming. Not simply to play, but to keep his writing skills honed.
“There was very little accessibility for people with disabilities. I researched and saw that few companies focused on disability in the digital world.”
That’s how DAGERSystem, an acronym for Disabled Accessibility Gaming Entertainment Rating System was born. In his educational interim, Josh wrote reviews and consulted in the industry.
“I covered video games from an accessibility perspective. My caregivers helped with transcription. Soon others with disabilities wanted to write reviews, too. I had four people with profound disabilities volunteering with me.”
When a new independent living worker entered his life, she encouraged Josh to apply for a business development grant, which he won.
“It did not thrill my parents that I was playing video games, but they graciously agreed to take me to the Game Developers conference in 2015.”
This conference became a turning point for him. Not only was it informative, but it created contacts in the consulting space. Now he wasn’t only offering comments after the release of a game but was consulting with companies in the development stage.
He’d been out of college for three years. “A thought leader in the industry took me under her wing, and said, ‘Josh, you have a valuable perspective, but you need more academic credentials. You need a PhD.’
“That was no surprise. I knew I’d have to be overqualified to work in this field. I’d planned to get a master’s in medieval literature but changed my plan. The University of Minnesota was one of two schools that offered a PhD in Human Factors, one of the two programs my mentor encouraged me to pursue.”
Deciding what degree to pursue and at which university was one thing. The next hurdle was paying for it.
“I applied to my state office of vocational rehab services. My counselor there assured me she would strive to get my request funded, but cautioned me that in ten years, she’d never known the state to pay for any post-graduate work.
“While I waited, my parents encouraged me to devise a different plan. The exact day a social worker and housing coordinator came to talk through options, I received an email. The state agreed to pay for my masters, doctorate, and laptop. I called my mom aside and shared the news. She told our guests their services were no longer needed.”
A plan did not make life easier, but Josh doggedly pushed through. In 2017, he graduated with his master’s degree and moved right into doctoral work. When the pandemic hit, he didn’t know if he could even get out of bed because caregivers were not consistent. He wondered if he could complete his PhD as planned in 2021.
While his formal education slowed, he helped Sony develop games for PlayStation. He received an invitation to attend a major conference for gamers, hosting an exhibit of demo simulators. Quickly making travel plans, he and his parents went to California. At the conference, he met the president of Sony, who invited him to dinner and created a new awareness of Josh’s capabilities.
“As a result, we divided my business into two parts. My private company, Apex Access continued consulting with game developers. The non-profit arm initially focused on journalism and was recently rebranded from DAGERSystems to AbilityPoints. Later, funding from a studio within Sony made the way for AbilityPoints to focus on helping people with disabilities find careers in tech and gaming.”
Josh is quick to acknowledge that God has blessed him. His heritage of faith led him to surrender his life to Christ as a young child and to live for God.
While he has received great favor and acceptance in the secular gaming industry, he has not always experienced that same acceptance within the local church. Sadly, this resulted in many years of separation from the family of God.
Today Josh and his family have connected with a small church. Though it’s not fully equipped for his level of disability, the body of Christ welcomes and accepts them. He describes it as “a spiritual emergency room for me and my family.”
He looks forward to defending his dissertation soon. All while continuing to open doors for others with disabilities to experience greater accessibility and employment in a field they love.
If you’d like to contact Josh, to offer a word of encouragement or learn more about his story and companies, you can reach him at DagerSystem@gmail.com