Until about a year ago, I was unable to play video games as the controllers are designed for two hands. Instead, I just watched others play and wished I could do the same. Then, my boyfriend discovered that the techies at Xbox had created a smart little gadget for people unable to use a traditional controller. What followed was an impulsive decision to spend all my birthday money on an Xbox and this Adaptive Controller – a decision I do not regret. The controller is something akin to a switchboard into which you can attach your own buttons, joysticks or whatever. In essence, you can create a personalised model - I use mine as a replacement for the left-hand side of a traditional controller. As a result, in the past year, I have become, if not a good gamer, then at least one that does not die every twenty seconds. I have also discovered that my controller is an excellent conversation starter!
As a little girl, I hated wearing my splints or using specialised equipment because it drew attention to my disability. Since entering adulthood, my outlook on this has changed. In fact, I have concluded that being disabled is far more interesting. Apologies to all able-bodied folk out there, but being normal is boring!
Jenni Bevis-Lacey suffers from rheumatoid disease and plays her flute in the community band with the help of a vertical flute head and her canine partner, LBE (pronounced Elbie).
"The first day I went in, I didn't really know anybody. I turned up in my wheelchair with my dog, and they went 'um...can we help you?' and I went 'no, that's alright, I play, the dog doesn't!' They laughed, and that broke the ice a bit."
LBE has not only proven himself to be a talking point and a means for Jenni to connect with the other band members but has become a fully-fledged member of the band in his own right. Flyers now advertise a "full concert band plus one canine partner!" And it seems he may be an aspiring saxophonist. Jenni says he likes to go to sleep next to the saxophones! He even provides the band with sometimes unwanted help. In the middle of a concert, he once tried to hand a trumpeter back the sheets of music she had deliberately placed on the floor.
Jenni also told me the story behind her vertical flute head:
"I started playing in the band but realised quite quickly that I was not going to be able to play properly. My shoulders are shot from rheumatoid arthritis, so holding the flute up was really difficult, and I was holding it wrongly. It was putting a lot of pressure on my shoulder. So, I Googled, and I saw that you get these vertical flute heads. I thought it might allow me to play for longer."
Just as the Adaptive Controller did for me, Jenni's flute head has become a conversation starter. Especially for men (sic), she says, who are often interested in the engineering behind it. No doubt, Jenni has spoken with loads more people than she otherwise would have done.
As a dog owner myself, I am well aware of how our canine companions make it easy to make new friends and connect with others. Still, it was not until recently that I realised specialised gadgets could do the same. Humans are social creatures, and thus we all need a circle of friends (especially journalists, how else do you think we get our scoops?). So, if my Adaptive Controller is a way of making acquaintances, I'm using it. After all, there are few advantages to being disabled.