Redefining Disability

Maggie Mallon

Sean Vitka reclines on his couch. Diet Coke in hand, he crossses one leg over another. Behind him stands an oak bookshelf. From each shelf gleams the cellophane wrappers of X-Box, Wii and PlayStation games.

While such a collection of video games may seem typical to the college-age male, it’s not simply a menagerie of procrastination paraphernalia, it is, in fact, the tangible manifestation of the past two years of senior Sean Vitka’s life.

Over their tenure at Villanova, many students volunteer with various causes on campus, but few can say they actually started their own charity. Vitka, however, can. He is the chief executive officer and president of Blue Redefined. These video games have all been donated to the organization, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing social and entertainment opportunities for individuals who are disabled, hospitalized or in an assisted living environment.

In high school, Vitka would spend afternoons at the Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, N.J. Vitka concedes his motives to volunteer were not entirely pure – he was pursuing a girl who was also part of the program. His crush eventually faded; however, his dedication to those who needed him remained.

“I feel like I have a commitment to society,” he says. “Humanity is more important to me than anything. I know what I feel like I need to do, and that’s not to turn my back and pretend what’s true isn’t true.”

During his time at Children’s Specialized, Vitka bonded with Cary Goldberg, a fellow volunteer. Goldberg had cerebral palsy and a prosthetic leg, and had spent time at Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Peapack, N.J. Goldberg asked Vitka to help him create a documentary on the patients at Matheny, and the two worked on the project during their senior year of high school and freshman year of college. However, a conflict over a potential benefactor for the film – Vitka did not trust him, Goldberg did – ultimately resulted in the two parting ways.

Although it never came to fruition, their documentary, “A Lesson in Hope,” was the inspiration for Blue Redefined. Vitka realized there was a void in entertainment opportunities for patients in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and was determined to provide them with an outlet.

It has been about two years since Goldberg and Vitka broke apart, and since then, Blue Redefined has taken off. They received pro bono legal support from Dechert L.L.P., a Philadelphia-based law firm and last May, Blue Redefined received public charity status within the commonwealth of Philadelphia.

As the chief executive officer, Vitka dedicates his time to researching hospitals and rehabilitation centers that could benefit most from the work of Blue Redefined. His workspace is located five feet from the oak shelf, and though his desk and the adjoining bookshelves contain copious promotional materials for BR (brochures, business cards and pens), he also has documents pertaining to potential donor sites. The behind the scenes effort proves challenging for him – he has to interview and tour each potential hospital or rehabilitation center to determine if they are the right choice for the group.

“We want to see kids using [our games],” Vitka says. “We want to know people are using it.”

Raising money has also proven to be difficult, and Vitka concedes that he doesn’t know a lot of people with money. He does have some connections – his older brother used to be a video game journalist – so a few major corporations, such as Sony, have donated some of the games that appear on the shelf. This batch of games will be donated to the Magee Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia in October.

Blue Redefined is not limited to making donations, and Vitka has been working to create a social networking site,, for people with disabilities. While sites like Facebook and MySpace permeate the social interactions of today’s youth, they neglect the needs of the people Blue Redefined works with. A blind eye is often turned on the latent hostility that exists toward people with disabilities. For any college student perusing their friend requests on Facebook, an offer of friendship from someone they don’t know would likely be rejected, but it is precisely that function that benefits someone who can’t socialize “normally.” BlueVerse hopes to create networking opportunities and allow people with disabilities to connect.

“BR can help its constituency because it provides a novel and much-needed way for a very isolated segment of society to connect and relate with each other,” says Phil Friedenberg the Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Blue Redefined. “There is no end to the positive benefits of feeling respected, valued and part of something important.”

A Beta version of BlueVerse is scheduled to debut in October. This is a huge step for Blue Redefined, and Vitka hopes to expand the organization nationally and, someday, internationally.

“I never thought in a million years I would end up in the non-profit world, I’ve learned so much from working with them, listening to people’s stories, learning from other people,” Vitka says. “It changed my life significantly for the better.”