Dr Mick Donegan
Founder and CEO, SpecialEffect
SpecialEffect’s primary aim is to enhance the quality of life of severely physically disabled people throughout the world through access to videogames. Our strategy is to be a catalyst for change through collaboration with developers and by example – offering a way forward not by what we say but what we do. Whether you are a person with a disability, a parent, carer or someone with a professional interest in the field we hope that you will find something of interest on our website which will help to take us all a little bit closer to a gaming world where everyone can join in.
We don’t think of ourselves as just being UK-based, we’re world-based.
Dr Mick Donegan has many years of practice-based work as a teacher and an Assistive Technology Specialist. He has extensive experience in assessing, teaching, training, and supporting people with complex communication difficulties. Mick was Deputy Head of Wilson Stuart Special School in Birmingham and Deputy Director of the ACE Centre, Oxford. He is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at SMARTlab, University College, Dublin, and is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Assistive Design at OCAD University, Ontario.
During 2004-2009 he was the User Requirements Coordinator in COGAIN (www.cogain.org), a European Network of Excellence investigating the use of gaze control for people with complex disabilities. In 2007, he founded the charity SpecialEffect, which uses specialised technology to enhance access to video games and creative self-expression for people with a wide range of disabilities.
In April 2009, he was involved in SMARTlab’s ground-breaking ‘Duet for Eyes’ performance at the Science Gallery, Dublin, during which two people with complex disabilities performed a musical duet using gaze controlled technology, accompanied by some of Ireland’s leading professional musicians.
From 2010 he was an advisor for the European Commission funded T.O.B.I. (Tools for Brain-Computer Interaction) Project. Since 2013 he has been an advisor for the BNCI (Brain/Neural Computer Interaction) Horizon 2020 Project (http://bnci-horizon-2020.eu).
He has published many academic papers and his work has been widely published. He co-wrote and edited Gaze Interaction and Applications of Eye Tracking: Advances in Assistive Technologies, which was published as a Premier Reference Source by IGI Global in 2011.
Building on his collaboration with Tobii, a Swedish Company, to help develop the first of a new generation of gaze controlled computers back in 2003, he collaborated with SMI, a German company, in 2012 to develop a new, high-quality, low-cost gaze tracker called the ‘myGaze’ which, like Tobii eye gaze systems, have been sold in their thousands to severely disabled people all over the world, including people with locked-in syndrome, Motor Neurone Disease and spinal injuries. In 2012, too, he was voted the ‘Talk Talk Digital Hero’ for the South West of England. In 2013 he contributed to Assistive Technologies: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (published by IGI) and Brain Computer Interfaces in their Ethical, Social and Cultural Contexts (published by Springer in 2014).
From 2014, SpecialEffect’s support for developers globally was further accelerated. 2018 proved to be a particularly eventful year during which the results of several years’ work came to fruition. It was the year when Xbox’s ‘Adaptive Controller’ hardware interface, developed by Xbox with help from SpecialEffect and others working in the field of games accessibility, was released. In March, at GDC, the world’s major game developer conference in San Francisco, Mick was presented with an Xbox-sponsored award in recognition of SpecialEffect’s global success in “Bringing Gaming to Everyone”. In April 2018, after three years of development, SpecialEffect launched the world’s first free-to-play interface which enables even the most severely disabled young people all over the world to play the universally popular game, Minecraft, by gaze control alone.
In May 2018, Mick’s charity launched ‘Eye Gaze Games’, which is a suite of free-to-play online games for people whose only form of control is their eye movement. As a result, disabled people, wherever they are, will be able to meet and compete at chess, draughts and many other games with anyone, anywhere in the world.
Mick continues to be driven by a passion to utilise whatever technology is available to reduce the gap between potential and performance for all people with disabilities to enhance their quality of life as much as possible, as quickly as possible.