Gaming is for everyone. And yet, the gaming industry does not have the software to allow those with disabilities to enjoy the games that others around them are playing.
Enter, Special Effect.
At MCM London, Special Effect and their team joined Machinima SBOC for their first ever Comic Con to raise awareness of their charity and what it does for the disabled community. Over the weekend, we had the chance to talk to Tom Donegan, the Events Coordinator at Special Effect, and son of its creator Dr. Mick Donegan. Working in Special Education, Donegan noticed a need in the market in 2007, when he saw that there were so many children with disabilities who would go home from school and have nothing to do but watch television – and even if their friends came over, they would end up playing outside with the child’s siblings, still leaving them with nothing to do.
This is the central idea of Special Effect – to offer children (and adults) the inclusion that they would not have otherwise. They began as a small group of volunteers, and over a decade they have expanded to a team of 20, including both occupational therapists and game technology specialists in order to deliver the best help they can to those in need. And inclusion is the number one goal – there’s no age limit for those that they can help, having worked with everyone from children to senior citizens, and the physical disabilities the team help with have included accident victims, service personnel suffering with combat injuries, people with congenital and progressive conditions, and stroke patients.
And with the huge advances in technology over the years, there is so much that Special Effect can do to ensure that no matter what you’re dealing with, they can provide the technology to suit your needs (and if they can’t, they will put you in contact with another organisation that can). Using this technology, the Special Effect team are working to be able to modify popular games such as Minecraft, Team Fortress, Football Manager, FIFA and Call of Duty, as well as more traditional computer games like sudoku and chess. The goal being, for everyone to be able to play the games they love without impediment.
At Special Effect, from the very first assessment, you have a lifelong service. From the first call, the team will respond in a couple weeks for the initial assessment, and from there, the continued relationship between the user and Special Effect will include adjustments in the software through the user’s changing needs. For example, if someone has motor neurone disease, muscular atrophy, or another condition that will weaken them over time, they may go from using switches to operate their game, to needing to use Eye-Gaze technology. On the other hand, those in a hospital setting, that the team visit as part of their rehabilitation may get better over time, and therefore, they may go from using voice recognition software to wanting to do more when they leave hospital and thus they are set up with prosthetics and switches to enable that.
The technology in the Special Effect repertoire, is incredible to say the least – from full operating systems and equipment, to small interfaces that can change a game to suit the user. Their Eye-Gaze technology means that those who have little to no ability to move their body are able to play a game using only the movement of their eyes. They are currently working on a suite of games that will work exclusively with this technology, that will be available online, whilst also working on an Eye-Gaze interface that will work with Minecraft by simply adding a small piece of software to the game.
And if the promise of all this technology was not good enough, the services that Special Effect provide are completely free to the user. As a charity they rely heavily on donations to fund their work – as you can imagine, the software and the specialist staff don’t come cheap.
However, there are three main ways that you can get involved with the incredible work that Special Effect do:
You can spread awareness of the charity and the work it does (for instance, you could share an article written about them – wink, wink.)
Special Effect are always looking for volunteers to help at the many events they go to, such as GameBlast, EGX and Insomnia.
And, of course, you can fundraise – whether you want to run a marathon, do a bake sale, or even a gaming contest, everything helps.
Special Effect are doing some truly inspirational work, and anything you can do will help them the help more and more people. And though they may only be a UK-based charity right now, there’s no doubt that if we can raise enough awareness, they might well be able to help those in other countries.
Head to the Special Effect website for more information, and you can share and track their progress over social media.
Website – http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/specialeffect
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/specialeffectteam/