Thursday, 10 November 2011

Why Making Gaming Accessible To Disabled Can Really Have a "Special Effect"...

 As most of you would agree, Gaming can be a really enjoyable pastime, but for people with severe physical disabilities - especially children and teenagers - gaming can also provide a window to social interactions with peers, an engaging activity that can aid motor and balance skills, and a sense of achievement that they may not be able to attain in other areas of their lives.

According to current figures by the website Accessibility, approximately 7% of the population suffers from a severe physical disability such as full or partial paralysis of the limbs and body, and another 5% from a mild physical handicap, including (amongst others) Repetitive Strain Injuries, which restrict the mobility of the arms or wrists and make movement painful.

Nevertheless, for gamers who have physical disability, gaming can often come with extra challenges such as difficult controllers, or games which need fast reactions or good balance and physicality in order for players to win.

Nintendo's Wii console has been both praised and criticised for its benefits and disadvantages to the disabled gamer. On the plus side, the Wii titles like Wii Sports emphasise things like good posture, balance and movement, which can be beneficial to people with brain injuries or impairments such as Cerebral Palsy.

Nevertheless, the overall high degree of physicality, and fast reactions needed for many Wii games has also been proven to be isolating to disabled players, especially when playing against able-bodied competitors.  A recent letter to the Kotaku website from a Muscular Dystrophy sufferer highlighted the problems that can be faced by gamers with a limited range of motion, including the amount of physicality required to move the Wii-mote successfully.

Microsoft's Xbox Kinect has similarly been both praised and criticised for its controller-less style of gaming, which on the one hand removes the barrier of difficult controllers for people with limited hand or finger movements, but on the other, seems incapable of registering movement from players who are in a stationary position in wheelchairs because of the need to track movement with the sensor in many of the games.

However, there are a few specialist companies out there who are looking to improve life for disabled video gaming fans, through specially adapted controllers, motion-tracking headsets and one-switch/one-handed controllers and remotes.

One company in particular who are endeavoured to making gaming a pastime that can be accessible to everybody is Special Effect, who provide special equipment to youngsters so that they can enjoy gaming just as much as their able-bodied counterparts.

Special Effect founder, Dr. Mick Donegan, claims that gaming can be an important part of the recovery and treatment process for youngsters with disabilities. He says: "If a child can't play we should be as worried as if they can't sleep or eat." [sourced from:]

However, just because there are companies out there who are trying to aide disabled gamers does not negate the responsibility of games' companies themselves to create software and hardware which can be truly universal, and which can come with adaptable options, so that it can be used by people regardless of their abilities or limitations, only then will gaming be considered to be a truly equal entertainment platform.

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