When most of us play video games, we hardly think about how to use the controller.
But for gamers with physical disabilities like Tom Clark, tilting his chin slightly and pressing into the switches attached to his head, feet and hands help him take aim in Battlefield 4 for the first time in years.
The 26-year old is a passionate gamer with spinal muscular atrophy (or SMA), a genetic disorder that affects the control of his muscles and motor nerve cells in his spinal cord, which makes it more difficult to walk, eat, or breathe.
Tom’s condition worsened over time, leaving him unable to continue playing video games with traditional controllers. For someone who loved playing games like FIFA with his brother or friends, this was devastating.
"Because I’ve got very little movement, it was very frustrating,” he says. “When I was younger I could play."
It’s an honor to be involved with an organization like SpecialEffect that has such a tangible impact on people like Tom.
Enter SpecialEffect, a UK-based non-profit organization devoted to finding solutions for gamers with physical disabilities. Founded in 2007 by Dr. Mick Donegan, they aim to do whatever it takes to raise the quality of life for everyone they work with.
Requests for their help are increasing all the time, and as a charity they’re heavily reliant on the generosity of the gaming industry and the gaming community to keep pace with demand.
Tom first contacted SpecialEffect in 2013, and as a result they visited him at home to look create a gaming setup that encompassed his specific physical abilities and his favorite games.
Their occupational therapists and technology experts fitted Tom with a chin-controlled joystick and voice control setup which allowed him to play the games he loved once again. With their help, Tom can now independently play games like Battlefield 4 and FIFA 16.
"It’s given me my life back, to be able to actually do what I want and lose myself doing the thing I love,” he says. "The first time I played my brother in 15 or 16 years I absolutely hammered him. Six or seven nil. That was quite a feat for me,” says Tom. “There’s no real way to describe it fully, how SpecialEffect changed my life."
Tom now uses a mounted Xbox One controller joystick, fitted with a thermoplastic molded extension to make it easier to maneuver with his bottom lip. The controller is mounted on a heavy duty arm so that it won’t move during play, and it runs through software called Xpadder, which turns the joystick movement into mouse cursor movement.
Tom uses voice control commands for some of the keys and a small switch in each hand as well as a button switch on his chin and a large switch under his left foot.
EA’s Chief Competition Officer Peter Moore sits on the SpecialEffect board of Vice Presidents, and he knows how much the organization has helped gamers like Tom all around the world.
“It’s an honor to be involved with an organization like SpecialEffect that has such a tangible impact on people like Tom, a fellow Liverpool supporter and someone that I have gotten to know through Special Effect, and countless others to allow them to enjoy something they love,” Peter says. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to play, and I’m continually inspired by SpecialEffect and the work they do for our community.”
SpecialEffect is one of the five charities participating in the Play to Give program at EA PLAY. Visit SpecialEffect to learn more about the great work they do for players around the world.
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