There’s delighted laughter coming from the Accessible Games Room at the headquarters of Charlbury-based charity SpecialEffect. A young girl with physical disabilities has suddenly realised that she doesn’t have to sit and watch all her friends have all the fun playing video games anymore, she can join in thanks to a custom controller that the charity has created for her.
Meanwhile in a Bristol hospital, SpecialEffect therapists are working at the bedside of Steve, a man with a serious spinal injury, who can only speak and move his eyes. They’re working out the best way for him to use an eye-controlled computer to give him back a degree of independence when it’s most needed. With it he could be able to message his family and friends, use the internet, operate doors, curtains and equipment around his house – including small but important functions like changing the channel on a TV.
“You’ve broken your neck and you think your world’s going to end, but then SpecialEffect came along,” said Steve. “When these [accidents] happen, you don’t know what’s ahead. But they’ve totally changed my life for the better. Your world’s not over, it’s just beginning.”
The therapists and technologists at SpecialEffect handle a diverse range of cutting-edge assistive technology projects that all have a direct and hugely positive impact on the people they help. The common theme is inclusion: they’re using technology to help as many people with physical disabilities as possible to join in, have fun and build a better quality of life.
It’s a lifelong service provided by highly experienced specialists, and despite the relatively small size of the charity – they have less than 30 full and part-time staff – the impact of what they do is increasingly global. They’ve worked with Microsoft in the design of a games controller that has the potential to help people around the world to play. They’ve developed free software that lets people who only have eye movement the ability to play the hugely popular game Minecraft. And their Founder and CEO Dr Mick Donegan is regarded as a leading global expert in eye-gaze technology.
“It’s a great opportunity we have,” he adds. “We’re building expertise all the time, we’re getting more and more specialist teams together, and it’s really exciting to see what the charity is able to achieve for as many people as possible.”
Crucially, there’s no charge for anyone they help.
But much of what the charity of have achieved in their 13-year history wouldn’t have been possible without the wonderful support of the Oxfordshire business community. The Twin Town Challenge for example has provided hundreds of thousands in support of the charity and in return has provided the participants with invaluable opportunities for business networking and team building.
In addition, the staff at businesses such as Shaw Gibbs, Oxford Products, Abbott Diabetes Care, STL, Owen Mumford, Shaw City, Focus Oxford Risk Management and the Urban Element have benefitted from close and genuine two-way Charity of the Year partnerships. The teams there have enjoyed raising money in a wide variety of ways, including rough runs, firewalls, cycle rides, gaming marathons, skydives and bakeoffs.
The importance of strong business connections for this local but global Oxfordshire charity can’t be underestimated. “We genuinely feel uplifted by the support of the Oxfordshire business community,” said SpecialEffect’s Fundraiser Nick Streeter. “They bring a real sense of family to the charity and the connections work on so many levels. There’s a huge amount we can do for each other and the wonderful spin-off is that each connection results in genuine personal and long-lasting corporate friendships.”