From Columbus, Ohio, Brandon is a self proclaimed "creature of many hats". A blogger, video game streamer, accessibility advocate and consultant for video games and apps, and a hobbyist voice actor.
You can listen to a recording of his story, or read our transcription below.
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Greetings myTrueFriends family, my name is Brandon Cole and I have a story to tell.
I am honored to be a guest here and I would like to tell my story.
I'm from Columbus, Ohio and I am a creature of many hats. I am a blogger, a streamer of video games but more than those things I'm a hobbyist voice actor and I can further say that I'm also an accessibility advocate for video games and apps as well and a consultant for disability, now this means that I literally go to game developers and I talk to them about accessibility and how to make their games more accessible to the blind. I speak at conferences and events of that nature and I speak directly to developers at their studios. I consult with them and actually make it happen in some cases.
You may be wondering how I got started in this calling of mine and I'm here to tell you, but I can't tell you how I got started in advocacy unless I tell you how I got started in gaming in the first place. And that's what I'm going to do now.
For me my gaming career began as a practical joke played on me by my brother, who is about 6 years older than me. He decided to be a fun time and prank me regarding video games. So, one day when I was about 6 years old, he asked me if I wanted to play Super Mario Brothers on a Nintendo Entertainment System. And of course, I had actually dismissed video games entirely at that point in my life. I thought they contain the word video, of course, there’s no way I can play them. I don't know what made me relent, but eventually I did relent. I gave in and I said, “okay fine I'll try it”.
So, we go into the room where the Nintendo was kept, he hands a controller, and we begin to play. Before I know it, I am breaking bricks, collecting coins, you know, dropping down pipes and smacking things and defeating bosses and rescuing princesses and all that stuff. It’s amazing, and before I know it, that end game music is playing. Yes, somehow, I've managed not only play the game but beat the game! I'm awestruck, I can't believe that I've done this incredible thing, but... I didn't.
You see because then my brother decides to tell me what the punchline is. The punchline is that he has handed me the unplugged second player controller while he played the entire game with the first player controller and basically told me to hit buttons and you know, I wasn't doing a single thing essentially. That is the moral of that story.
I was crushed at that time. I remember very clearly that I was devastated. I couldn't believe that here I was. I thought I did this great thing. I thought I did something really neat and it turns out I did nothing at all. At the same time, that was the spark that basically started me on the path, because at that time I vowed to one day - beat one game! I kept it simple. One game without his help.
I started trying games; playing just any game I could, just messing around with it, any game we had or any game we rented. I just tried things and I learned things. I learned that, you can learn what the sounds of a game mean and you can learn how to use that information to follow along, or you know, play the game you’re trying to play, in some cases.
Eventually, it wouldn't be long, when I actually did beat a game without his help and that game was the original Killer Instinct for Super Nintendo. I beat that game happily and delightedly and I happily ran out to tell my mother who does not care about video games even a little bit that I've done this wonderful thing and she came in and saw the credit screen and was like “oh that's cool I think...” you know some like that.
But the point is I had done it and that really was a jump off point I have never looked back since. I’ve loved video games my whole life. Now to follow up on that I have always, ever since those years, I've always paid attention to the games I could play versus those I can't play. My whole life I've come up with ideas. Each time I encounter a game I can't play I always think about ways that I could play it if the game was modified for accessibility for the blind. I always come up with ideas regarding accessibility.
In 2005 my fiancé, well she was my girlfriend at the time, we didn’t get engaged until 2008. Anyway, in 2005 she notices that I always have these ideas and, she's playing these games for me so I can hear them and I'm always coming up with ideas and ways that, that these games could be played if, you know, they were made accessible and I always shouted these out to her like “Oh man if you could do this in this game, if they modified this game and do this and this, it would be so much better! I could play it then!” And she's like “You should blog.” My initial response was “Nah, I don't blog, what are you talking about, nah”, that's how I responded. She said “no seriously you should blog, game developers don't have anywhere to turn if they're even going to try to make these things happen and people listened to you when you talk about video games people listen to you people pay attention to what you say about them.” I was like “All right, all right” so yeah, I started a blog in 2005.
At first I didn’t post much, because I wasn’t really a blogger and it was hard for me to keep up with these things but eventually I started noticing people were paying attention, my friends were reading the blog and it was kind of local at first. Then somehow, someway it got out to other people apparently, because eventually before you know it in 2014, yes, I know a whole 9 years later but still in 2014, I was invited to be on a panel GDC the Game Developers Conference. I joined several other folks, one other advocate for accessibility and also some people that had made their games accessible on mobile platforms. So, I joined them in this panel, and I talked about being a blind gamer, being a gamer who could play only certain games or being a gamer who needed modifications to play some games. I talked about the blind gamer perspective basically.
I apparently, did very well so everyone loved the panel. Through that panel I met the other advocate who was there, Ian Hamilton. He's a very well-known accessibility advocate and that's how I met him. Everything went really, really well. Really swimmingly. I was also given an award that night an appreciation from the Game Audio Network Guild for my support of game audio, for my acknowledgement of audio in video games essentially. They gave me a trophy and everything, it’s great.
That's really where the kickoff really happened because I started to realize, wait a minute, people really are listening me, look at what just happened. I was at GDC, I spoke at GDC and everyone gave me compliments on it, everyone said that my speech had been the one, like my speech had killed it you know it's amazing. It kind of kicked off there, I started blogging more and I started to pay attention to the fact that people were listening to what I had to say more and before you know it more stuff started happening.
In 2017 I was invited to a bunch of different things. The very first ever Game Accessibility Conference, being one of them, I was a speaker there. The global Accessibility Day presentation done by Sony in their headquarters and the Microsoft headquarters as well for their accessibility bootcamp day.
It was amazing, like suddenly this this whole thing was blowing up and so really honestly right around the Game Accessibility conference date, which was right around my birthday funnily enough. Right around then is when I really decided this is it. This is what I want to do and now I have devoted essentially my entire existence to doing this.
Now I'm officially labeling myself as an advocate for accessibility and a consultant for same. I have active contracts one of which I cannot talk about at all, but I do have active contracts in consulting. I have very few regrets. I actually ended up leaving my full-time job, partially because of issues with the company but also because I wanted to pursue this, and I wanted to be really serious about it.
I’m taking it seriously, now everything I do feeds into this work. The streams that I do feed into this work, the blogs feed into it and a very soon the podcast I’m going to be doing is also going to feed into it.
It's all one big plan that I have now and it's starting to work and that's amazing to me and you know, I'm not going to look back and that's, if there's a motto here, that's it.
If there's something that you love if there’s something that you believe in, something you feel is what you are supposed to do in this world. Do it. No matter what that takes you need to do it. This is my calling I need to do this now. I used to think I was going to be a voice actor and I still love voice acting. I actually have one professional credit and I still love it though but not as much as this. It shocked me when it turned out voice acting wasn't what I really want to do with my life but this is and when you find that thing you need to pursue it.
Now, don't do so rashly. Prepare yourself. Make a plan for how you're going to do so and survive. I was able to leave my job because I had the option of falling back on social security which increased a great deal since I started working. I had been working for 10 years so I had that option, you may, you may not, I don't know. Come up with a plan and then once you have come up with the plan, execute that plan make it work.
That is my story, that is my motto that is my goal. That is my life right now, I'm an advocate and a consultant, and again my name is Brandon Cole and I wish you all well.
Thank you very much for a listen to this and have a fantastic, wonderful, lovely, joyous, wonderous day and thank you again for listening and again welcome to myTrueFriends!