While the old school joypads of the eighties might’ve been more user-friendly and inclusive for a wider range of people, the tech charity SpecialEffect doesn’t want this to stop the adventures of disabled gamers today.
Winners of AbilityNet’s Tech4Good Accessibility Award 2014, SpecialEffect has been customising gaming systems for the last ten years, so a wide range of people – from those who’ve had a stroke – to someone with cerebral palsy, can get the most out of Tetris, Mario or their game of choice.
“The old favourites are still the same as they were when we started,” says Mark Saville, communications officer at SpecialEffect. “We do bespoke adjustments for fans of Call of Duty, Fifa, Grand Theft Auto, and now we get a lot of requests for Minecraft from the younger ones too.”
SpecialEffect also helps disabled people use computers for things like colouring in games, jigsaws and bowling – as is the case with Charlotte featured here, who lost her limbs through meningitis.”
Speaking as the closing date for the Tech4Good 2017 awards nears a close on 8 May, Saville reflects on the coveted prize picked up at the BT Centre ceremony three years ago.
“I’ve got vivid memories of the presentation, and the networking and fundraising opportunities it opened up were fantastic,” he says.
Winning is often about having something relatable for judges and voters to connect with,” adds Saville. “We’re fortunate to have so many great SpecialEffect stories from people we’ve helped over the years. I know it can be quite difficult for some charities, but the more compelling the stories, the better.”
SpecialEffect, which now has 19 staff and has helped many hundreds of people across the UK, often working with children’s hospitals and injured soliders, uses a wide range of modified and off-the-shelf technology, including custom games joypads, eye-control systems, mouth/chin controllers and voice control software.
Sometimes the solution might involve remapping a game controller’s buttons to areas of the body that the person can control.
“What are we working on at the moment?” says Saville. “We’re testing out eye controllers for Minecraft”.
The big new kid on the block is virtual reality (VR), of course. “We’re working on building in eye gaze tech into VR games. We’re working with a number of developers, quietly, who are asking how to make games more accessible. It would be great if developers all over the world were inspired. Good luck to all of this year’s entrees.”