At Virtually Free, we’re round-the-clock busy developing videogames to improve mental health. I thought we could take time out from our regular blogging schedule to highlight the work of our friends at SpecialEffect who help people with physical heath and disabilities to enjoy video games.
SpecialEffect house a large library of gaming controllers, rigs and equipment to suite a huge variety of physical disabilities and to provide the maximum level of comfort for people suffering to play games.
Having the privilege to visit the loan library, I can tell you that the equipment they house is truly extraordinary. Machines straight out of Philip K. Dick fiction. The Eyegaze for example allow its users to control computers simply by looking at it. With a flick of the eye I was browsing the internet and then shooting zombies in The House of The Dead light gun game.
But what makes it exciting is its potential to open up communication, independence, self-esteem and quality of life for people who can’t use a computer effectively in any other way. People with locked-in syndrome, motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy, for example.
The equipment has enabled Daryl to be a hardcore gamer despite his cerebal palsy. SpecialEffect have a found a way for him to have independent control of his games on his Xbox 360 and they’re currently working on access for Daryl to use his Playstation.
Ajay, an IT support analyst with spinal muscular atrophy, lost his hand dexterity when he was 17 years old, but SpecialEffect introduced him to a chin-controlled joystick and voice control setup that's got him back in the game. "Initially I wanted to play every game because I was so excited," he said. "SpecialEffect have given me back something I lost many years ago."
The equipment has also rigged to help people who suffer sudden injury or illness that leaves them completely paralysed, and unable to move any part of their body other than their eyes. The StarGaze project provides the loan and support of eye-controlled technology that can help people as quickly as possible. It’s technology that can open the door for initially for emergency communication, but can lead to independence in education, work and leisure. StarGaze patron is rugby star Matt Hampson who was left paralysed when a scrum collapsed in 2005.
Special Effect is a small team lead by the extraordinary Dr. Mick Donegan who started SpecialEffect as "there was nowhere to go for independent and expert advice and support to help (children with disabilities to) use technology to actually have fun!"
To find out more, check out their website: http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/