I’m honoured to present an exclusive interview with Mark Saville, who is the Communications Support, for the Gamer’s Charity – Special Effect.
When did the Charity begin and what was the inspiration?
SpecialEffect was started eleven years ago by our founder and CEO, Dr Mick Donegan. He’d spent many years of helping very severely disabled people and was hearing time and time again that they were desperate to play games – not just to have fun but to interact and be included with their family and friends, so he started the charity.
Do you find yourself explaining the work of the Charity a lot?
Yes. Gamers and the gaming community get what we’re trying to do, and we’re also finding ourselves talking about the impact of our work to audiences as diverse as Women’s Institutes and Scout groups. The common theme that inspires them is the inclusivity that our support enables.
How many people do you help in a year?
The numbers vary, but it’s about 300-400 people face-to-face, hundreds more via email and telephone, and thousands more worldwide via our R&D work like EyeMine, our free software that lets people play Minecraft using just their eyes and a low-cost eye-tracker.
How do you see gaming evolve and how does the Charity keep up to date with advancements in technology?
We’re finding that disability is being taken into consideration by an increasing number of developers and manufacturers, and Microsoft’s recently-launched XAC is a great example of that.
We’re constantly monitoring new technologies for their potential to help gamers with disabilities, but we keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and everything has to be tailored to fit individual needs and abilities. We have gamers, for example, who play games using a combination of eye-gaze, voice control and body switches.
Are you able to explain the process from application to the equipment being delivered and installed?
If we can help, a specialist team of occupational therapists will work with the person either in their own home or at our games room in Oxfordshire to look at matching up their abilities to the requirements of the games they want to play. It’s a personalised and lifelong service.
Our OTs take into account a whole range of factors – personal, social, environmental – and their aim is to create very personalised solutions that are comfortable to use over long periods, give as competitive and enriching a gaming experience as possible, and that sit alongside other existing mounting and accessing equipment.
Once we’ve found a successful setup we’ll lend the equipment to make sure that it works over time, then ask the person to source their own setup so that we can reuse our equipment.
We’ll mix, match and modify equipment to get the best access possible. It’s totally dependent on the abilities of the individual. For some that might mean modifying a controller by adding sockets for external switches.
For others, a combination of equipment like foot switches, a chin-controlled joystick or speech controls might work. Or we might use eye control, often in combination with another access method.
A common modification we carry out is to make a controller joystick easier to move by replacing the springs inside. We don’t sell or make any equipment, but we do occasionally develop specific software if we feel there’s a real need.
What has been the most challenging adaptation that your team has undertaken?
Depends who you ask here! All our therapists have worked in challenging situations with people with complex needs. They’ve also had some unusual requests. One gamer that we’ve helped contacted us to say he couldn’t use his voice controls any more because the new family dog barked too loudly! What always leaves a lasting impression though is how committed and determined people are to play games to the best of their abilities. They’re the real heroes!
How can people help or volunteer with the charity?
There’s a form on our website at https://www.specialeffect.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer. We rely on our fantastic volunteers for so much!
A huge thank you to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions. You can donate money to the Charity by using this link, https://www.specialeffect.org.uk/get-involved/donate