SpecialEffect is Making Games Accessible to All

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Games are for everyone. The last time I used that phrase, I was dispelling the "girls don't play games" myth for a co-worker. It's true, certainly in that case, but it holds true in broader terms as well. People of all genders, ages, etc enjoy games. We see it in action at every con, in every pre-game lobby and every MMO server. While it's easy to champion this idea, there are a few who have put that thought into action. SpecialEffect is working to make games playable for those who, due to disability have had to either stop playing, or have never been able to play before.

We take for granted the complexity of controlling a game these days. The average controller on the market today has two analog sticks that double as buttons, a d-pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons . Imagine trying to use one without the use of one or both of your hands. Not so easy.

There is no standard for accessibility in video games. For many people with disabilities, playing games is extremely difficult or impossible. SpecialEffect's goal is to "use technology to enhance the quality of life of people with all kinds of needs, including stroke and road traffic accident patients, individuals with life-limiting conditions and injured soldiers returning from overseas."

And they've done some amazing things. From a special controller usable with one hand, to a gaze controlled computer for a little girl unable to move or breath on her own, SpecialEffect has changed hundreds of lives.

Where does all this equipment come from? Through grants and donations, SpecialEffect is able to maintain a large bank of adapted gaming equipment. When they receive a request for help, they help set up the equipment, offer trials at their game room in Oxfordshire, and should the loan equipment prove unusable, they will keep trying new setups until they find one that does work. And they don't charge their patrons for any of the work they do.
Founder, Dr. Mick Donegan

SpecialEffect was founded in 2007 by Dr. Mick Donegan in a single unheated room, and has grown to a full office that maintains "an army of volunteers." Through fundraisers and other special events, they've managed to raise awareness of accessibility worldwide. They aim to answer every request for help they receive, and with their increasing recognition, it's crucial that they maintain their growth and fundraising efforts.

It's one thing to imagine the impact their services has had on their clients, but seeing the joy on a little boys face when he is able to play a game with his sister for the first time; Just amazing. The work they put into each client doesn't stop until they are on equal footing with their classmates, siblings and friends. It's painstaking work, sometimes taking years to find the right setup. But once they've found it, you can see the improvements almost immediately.

Playing Black Ops II with a breath. Image credits: PC Gamer

This week's Humble Bundle is a great way to support SpecialEffect. The bundle has been put up in cooperation with Codemasters, and all charity proceeds from the sale go directly to SpecialEffect to help them continue the incredible work they started in 2007. Please consider contributing, especially if you too believe games really are for everyone.