There’s delighted laughter coming from the Accessible Games Room at the headquarters of Charlbury-based charity SpecialEffect. A young girl with Cerebral Palsy has suddenly realized that she doesn’t have to sit and watch her friends have all the fun playing video games anymore. Instead, she can join in, thanks to a custom controller that the charity has created for her.
Meanwhile in a Bristol hospital, SpecialEffect therapists are working at the bedside of Steve, a man with a serious spinal injury who can only speak and move his eyes. They’re working out the best way for him to use an eye-controlled computer to give him back a degree of independence when it’s most needed. With it he could be able to message his family and friends, use the internet, operate doors, curtains and equipment around his house – including small but important functions like changing the channel on a TV.
“You’ve broken your neck and you think your world’s going to end, but then SpecialEffect came along,” said Steve. “When these [accidents] happen, you don’t know what’s ahead. But they’ve totally changed my life for the better. Your world’s not over, it’s just beginning.”
The therapists and technologists at SpecialEffect handle a diverse range of cutting-edge assistive technology projects that all have a direct and hugely positive impact on the people they help. The common theme is inclusion: they’re using technology to help as many people with physical disabilities as possible to join in, have fun and build a better quality of life.
It’s a lifelong service provided by a highly specialist team, and despite the relatively small size of the charity – they have fewer than thirty full- and part-time staff – the impact of what they do is increasingly global. They’ve worked with Microsoft in the design of a games controller that has the potential to help people around the world to play. They’ve developed free software that lets people who only have eye movement to play the hugely popular game Minecraft. And their Founder and CEO Dr Mick Donegan is regarded as a leading global expert in eye-gaze technology.
“It’s a great opportunity we have,” he adds. “We’re building expertise all the time, we’re getting more and more specialist teams together, and it’s really exciting to see what the charity is able to achieve for as many people as possible.”
Crucially, there’s no charge for anyone they help. The charity’s services are available to anyone in the UK with a severe physical disability. If an individual is unable to travel, SpecialEffect’s staff will arrange a home or hospital visit to carry out an assessment and then provide all the necessary equipment free of charge. And for those living overseas, they are always happy to offer advice and try to find a solution remotely. As demand for these services increases, the generosity of supporters is more important than ever, which is why SpecialEffect are so delighted to be the partner charity of the Rough Guide to Xbox!