Children in Need for gaming and accessibility

Hear about GameBlast and how money can help people with accessible controllers.
21 February 2020

Interview with 

Mark Sommerville, SpecialEffect


Nintendo Switch


Leigh Milner - There’s a huge event taking place right now from 21st - 23rd February… and it’s called GameBlast...

In fact Doug Cockle… the voice of the Witcher, who featured in last month’s episode… is there at the moment as part of the event.

So what is GameBlast?

It’s a gaming marathon that raises money for the charity… SpecialEffect.

Chris Berrow - I’ve been catching up with Mark Saville from SpecialEffect about the event...

Mark - Every single disability is different. If you look at somebody who's got say cerebral palsy, that will present itself differently in every single case. So, so what we do, we have specialists, therapists here and uh, we have fans and we go out across the UK to see people in their own homes. If they can't travel to us and we ask them what sort of games they want to play and what sort of movements they've got, abilities they've got. And we match the two. We mix, we match remodify technology, existing technology and create sort of setups, sometimes simple, sometimes complex that makes the best use of all the abilities they've got. Now, you know, for example, we might have somebody has come back from a theater of war missing a few fingers and they just love playing Call of Duty. So well and it we'll try and set up something for them, which utilizes to say, you know, head movement or shoulder or something else. So voice controls or all those all together, you know, in, in some way so they can get playing. Again, the opposite end of that I suppose it's the people say with muscular dystrophy we're seeing or spinal injuries who only have maybe a bit of head movement or even just eye movement. And then we, you know, we're working with, you know, quite specialist technology to let them play at least some of what they want to play.

Chris - Now tell us about this event. So GameBlast then starting today, 21st to 23rd of February and a huge event, obviously raising money towards SpecialEffect. So how new is GameBlast and what's involved in that?

Mark It's kind of like the Children in need for gamers. Uh, Ahat we do is every February we put aside a weekend and we say to gamers in the UK and actually across the world and say to the companies, look, uh, take a weekend aside, play games, have fun, uh, and raise money for us. And that can be sort of through say, gaming marathons, sponsored game marathons or you know, board gaming or people do gaming for, you can bake sales. We've actually got somebody skydiving for us this week, which is absolutely fantastic. It's been going since uh, 2014 now. And it's just, it's, it's wonderful on so many levels because you know, first of all, you know, it raises so much money for us desperately needed money because we don't charge for any of our help. So you know, every penny counts. But also it's, it's, we feel like, you know, we're talking to friends, gamers get what we're doing, really get what we're about and it's, it's great to know that they've got our back, especially on that weekend. It's, it's such a lovely, lovely weekend for us. 

Leigh - Thanks to Mark Saville from SpecialEffect, and GameBlast is running until 23rd February, but if you’re listening to this episode after it’s happened, you can find out more from

Chris - Microsoft have developed an accessible controller to help gamers who struggle with the standard Xbox controller…

Leigh - There isn’t really much provision for gamers who need additional support to play their favourite games.

Chris - I’ve been speaking to Rory Steel - he’s a dad who has a bit of technological knowledge, and he used Microsoft’s accessible controller… and adapted it with extra buttons… so that his son Corben and daughter Ava can play their favourite games!

One of the videos of his daughter Ava reacting to version 1 of the controller he built has nearly 3 million views on Twitter


So how did Rory go about making his own accessible controller?

Rory - I'd always been a gamer and even when the Switch first came out I was, I was coming an hour and an hour getting it, but a Zelda was really the only game I wanted so it was a bit tough to make that call. And then this Christmas, my daughter kind of, she, she's a big fan of Dan TDM, a YouTuber and he does a lot of switch stuff and uh, she said, can I have the Switch? And my arm was already kind of three quarters bent anyway. Um, and I said, yeah, let's go for it. Cause I knew that a Mario car, you could just use the controller from side to side from left to right, a bit like the we, um, from back in the day. And so I thought, yeah, we'll get that. It's accessible. 

And there was a sneaky package for myself as Zelda said, I could play it at night. And um, I accidentally left it on, uh, as you do playing late at night. And my son saw it in the morning and he just wanted to play it. And uh, that's when I went, Oh, okay, this is, this is going to be complicated because you know, the controllers are quite difficult and I know that dexterity cause that the same condition then wouldn't, wouldn't work. So, um, I knew I'd seen the Xbox at that, the controller was around and I'd done some cursory looks to see if it was compatible. And with a tiny little few adaptations, you can make it adaptive for the PlayStation and the Switch and a few others, I think. Um, so I said, right, I'll give that a go and got the adaptive controller, did a little bit research, saw that the buttons were, you know, that you could buy off the shelf where we're at, whether they're, um, but, uh, you know, being a bit of a tight Scotsman in the back of my heritage, um, I thought, I know I can do this for cheaper.

I was a math teacher for many years, then I moved to it just over a decade ago. Um, and recently I've, I work a Digital Jersey, a local, uh, kind of, uh, arms of government organization that tries to promote, um, digital skills. So it was kind of one of those things that, you know, got practice what I preach and say, well, let's show people that it is within their grasp. So they're a little bit of research and the most difficult part was working out, which would be compatible, cheaper arcade buttons I had is quite a few on the market for Raspberry Pies and, and vice versa. But I managed to find one that suggested that it was compatible with Microsoft. So I thought that's probably my best bet. Um, had a few other bits and bobs and uh, just kind of gave it a go. And the practice, the proof's in the pudding with the, uh, with the controller. 

Chris - Thanks to Rory Steele, and you can see his daughter Ava in action on YouTube - just search for AvaOMGCraft



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