A small firm Yorkshire-based firm already has and, as a result, people with severe learning or physical disabilities have been able to enjoy control over their environment or the pleasure of playing music - simply by applying pressure on the buttons on a games console controller.
The familiar wireless Xbox controller is incorporated into Apollo Creative’s Ensemble technology which also employs other sensors, switches and pressure pads to trigger sounds or images linked to a theme of the user’s choosing.
“It could be outer space or the rainforest; a musical performance or interactive storytelling session; it really does depend on the images or sounds available as a resource,” said Apollo’s creative director Mark Hildred. “One of the advantages of the Ensemble software is that it’s adaptable and easy to change.”
Often young people with physical disabilities can be put off by the specialist equipment which can appear to be too childish or emphasise their differences. However, the games controller comes with an inbuilt 'cool' factor, plus the fact that it’s often already familiar.
“We’ve seen youngsters master simple tunes with the controller – and derive a great deal of pleasure from it,” said Mr Hildred.
“I recently encountered a young man who had a very severe physical disability and only really had control over his head movement. With careful positioning of the controller he was able to play the joystick using his chin. In fact he was the best player we met that day, easily out-performing the more able-bodied performers.”
The Ensemble package helped the company reach the final of the ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions category at the British Educational Training & Technology (Bett) Awards in London at the beginning of February, and Mr Hildred says he hopes 2013 will see Apollo widening its appeal in the broader education sector.
“We primarily supply Ensemble equipment to the special needs market, but have a number of situations where it's used in mainstream settings including a pilot project to introduce nursery children to music,” said Mr Hildred.
“The Bett Show and awards in London gave us a platform to promote the concept to an audience representing education providers from around the globe so it was a massive opportunity for us.”