SpecialEffect is helping people with physical disabilities play the games they love

(Image credit: SpecialEffect)

This week we invited the UK-based gaming charity SpecialEffect over on the PC Gamer forums to chat about the important work it does for gamers with physical disabilities. Over on the Studio Spotlight forum threads, SpecialEffect workers have been chatting with our readers about the charity's ongoing projects.

To find out more, I chatted with SpecialEffect founder Dr Mick Donegan who has extensive experience as an assistive technology specialist. He founded SpecialEffect in 2007. 

"In 2007, there was so little specialist gaming accessibility help available," Dr Donegan explains. "Through SpecialEffect, I’ve created a multi-professional team with specialist skills in technology, psychology, education and occupational therapy who also love videogames, of course. Our mission is to enable people with even the most complex physical challenges to play videogames to the best of their ability. Our primary aim has always been to make the kind of fun and inclusivity, that only videogames can offer, accessible to everyone."

The charity provides life-long support, face-to-face consultations, and advice on what accessible gaming equipment will meet a player's needs. 

SpecialEffect has helped build and develop a range of resources and technology as part of its work. One of the charity's projects EyeMine, built by Kirsty McNaught, is a tool that lets players use eye-tracking software to play Minecraft. It supports a number of eye trackers including the Tobii 4C, a mainstream gaze tracker that costs approximately $170/£140.  

Another project is Eye Gaze Games, a collaborative website with Sun and Moon Games that hosts a bunch of browser-based games. It's designed for people with physical disabilities to play against anyone, anywhere in the world on any device. 

"For example, someone who is completely paralysed in a hospital in Bristol will be able to use eye movement alone to play chess against someone playing on mobile in Belarus," Dr Donegan explains. "Not only will it link gamers of all abilities across the world but it will also provide a model for developers who want to learn how to make their own games as accessible as possible, too."

SpecialEffect has proven to be influential in recent years. The charity has stepped in to help create new controller hardware with major publishers.

"We were a partner in developing and testing the Xbox Adaptive Controller which makes it easier for disabled gamers to access Xbox games using a variety of different controllers." Dr Donegan says. "We also were involved with the Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit that includes a number of control devices and buttons to help players. It also works with the Xbox Adaptive Controller."

SpecialEffect has also provided support and advice for software development and has helped the likes of EA, Playground Games, DoubleFine, and Rare to make games like Forza Motorsport, FIFA, and Sea of Thieves more easily playable.

Outside of helping developers, SpecialEffect's Game Access blog is filled with advice on how disabled players can play certain games. A recent post this week explores the accessibility options and menus in the multiplayer game Moving Out. 

Game Access is not only helping players, Dr Donegan says that it's also helpful to developers, too. "A compliance and certification analyst and accessibility ERG at EA, Madrid, wrote to us recently to say that they use our guides and tutorials for their accessibility workshops."

(Image credit: SpecialEffect)

The cancellation of industry events due to the pandemic has had affected the charity. "We don’t do any traditional 'marketing', so to speak," says Dr Donegan. "So, events such as GDC, EGX Rezzed, Insomnia, Develop conference are how we both network and spread the word about the charity’s work to those working in the industry. We also connect with our community of supporters and volunteers."

"Equally, if not, more importantly, public-facing gaming events are also where we meet a lot of existing and future service users with disabilities, who will often be finding out about SpecialEffect for the first time."

To tackle these tough times, SpecialEffect is doing regular Twitch streams, and has launched a bunch of virtual events, including a virtual version of the London 10k to raise money. 

SpecialEffect continues to carry on its important work and you can read more about what the charity does over on its website and, if you can, spare a donation on their donation page. You can find all of SpecialEffects posts in the Studio Spotlight section of the PCG forum. 

Rachel Watts

Rachel had been bouncing around different gaming websites as a freelancer and staff writer for three years before settling at PC Gamer back in 2019. She mainly writes reviews, previews, and features, but on rare occasions will switch it up with news and guides. When she's not taking hundreds of screenshots of the latest indie darling, you can find her nurturing her parsnip empire in Stardew Valley and planning an axolotl uprising in Minecraft. She loves 'stop and smell the roses' games—her proudest gaming moment being the one time she kept her virtual potted plants alive for over a year.