SpecialEffect uses 3D printing to help support gamers with physical disabilities

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When it comes to day-to-day activities, it’s easy to naturally take seemingly small tasks for granted - such as picking up a fork or tying one’s shoes

But for a large part of the world’s population, these seemingly mundane everyday tasks are either extremely difficult or next-to-impossible. Thankfully, the low cost of 3D printing has been able to bring about a new generation of custom devices that are enabling those with physical disabilities like never before. Among other experiences that are now possible thanks to 3D printing are video games.

SpecialEffect, a UK-based charity, has been spending almost a decade developing unique custom devices that enable those with physical disabilities to enjoy the gaming experience. Founded in 2007 by Dr. Mick Donegan, a former teacher and current Assistive Technology Specialist, the charity invites individuals with physical disabilities that prevent them from handling a standard video game controller to try out a variety of alternative interfaces using different methods of input.

According to SpecialEffect communications officer Mark Saville, their job is to “join the dots by connecting a person’s abilities with the tech,” which can also include voice commands, muscle twitch switches and eye control.

For example, rather than using a typical video game controller with multiple buttons and joysticks, SpecialEffect will design individuals custom solutions that can include everything from mouth-controlled joysticks to palm and chin-controlled interfaces that provide a more flexible option on a case-by-case basis for each individual. Of course - since these solutions are unique to each individual - 3D printing makes perfect sense for creating one-of-a-kind solutions.

“For instance, we’ll remap buttons or change the joystick sensitivity,” adds Saville. “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.”

More recently, the SpecialEffect team collaborated with Mondelez International - a global confectionary company - to combine the PC game Spore with an eye-tracking system and 3D printing.

SpecialEffect uses 3D printing to help support gamers with physical disabilities