Lee is a lifelong gamer; he also has spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that causes progressive muscle weakness. When his condition meant that he was no longer physically able to play games, he became depressed – he felt like part of who he was had slipped away. Now, with a combination of a mouth-controlled joystick and a series of micro-switches he is playing again. He has just completed Grand Theft Auto V. “There are no more limitations,” he says.
The staff at SpecialEffect have dozens of stories like this. Set up in 2007 by Dr Mick Donegan, a specialist in assistive technology, the charity uses a range of specialist interfaces to help people with disabilities who want to play video games but can’t use standard controllers. They have palm and chin joysticks, they have button pads that can be pressed with feet, and voice control systems. Some setups implement technologies developed by other organisations, some are custom built by resident engineer Barrie Ellis and his small in-house team, who’ll often happily rip apart standard peripherals before reconfiguring them into more accessible gadgets.
Sometimes part of the interface is PC-based in order to run software to change how the joysticks or buttons behave,” explains SpecialEffect communications officer, Mark Saville. “For instance, we’ll remap buttons or change the joystick sensitivity. For other controllers, we use software to incorporate inputs such as voice control. If something doesn’t exist or is prohibitively expensive, we make modifications to hardware ourselves.
Read more at the Guardian.