Video game controllers for the disabled: Accessibility is Key

brain-to-computer-video-game-controllers-for-the-disabledHaving been an avid gamer most of my life, here’s a thought that I’ve been having recently: Wouldn’t it be great to have video game controllers for the disabled? Not as a means to get ahead of an average player, but to level the playing field in a way.

 

With accessibility becoming a frequent term associated with technology, I would think that hardware accessibility for gamers in this manner deserves some spotlight as well. Sounds a bit farfetched? On the contrary!

In the realm of gaming, there are people who do not let their disabilities get in the way of video game entertainment. In fact, some have even gone on to place in tournaments and received the adulation of both fans and pro gamers. Here’s an example:

Disability is not a Hindrance to Fun


In 2011, a video about Mike Begum (aka Brolylegs), appeared on the internet. Begum has arthrogryposis, which in lay man’s terms, is the reduced development and mobility of many joints. As you will see in the video, he does not have full use of his fingers or limbs. He is also bound to a motorized chair to get him around.

What Brolylegs does have, however, is an amazing knack for video games. One of the top Super Smash Bros and Street Fighter players from Texas, he uses combines a personal technique in working his controller (his left cheek on an analog stick, tongue-jabs inside his right cheek + whatever finger control he has for buttons) and deftly controller configuration that exploits certain game mechanics to his advantage.

This setup gives him a definite fighting chance when he plays against others, and his complete familiarity with this setup (which has been fine tuned over the years), has made him one of the more competent professional gamers.

Long ways to go


But not all people with disabilities have a working configuration similar to Brolylegs, let alone can use a similar configuration that works for him. This is further amplified by the fact that 10 percent of the world’s population (roughly 650 million) have disabilities, both known and unknown.

Because of this, it has become increasingly challenging to create a gaming controller to cater each and ever disability out there. So when it comes to looking for controllers that are suited to the disabled gamer, the goal is to harness assistive technology in a way that makes it useful to several disabilities.

 

Baby Steps for some, Giant leaps for others


head-wand-video-game-controllers-for-the-disabled

Fortunately there have been a couple of products out there that can do the job for some impairments.

QuadStick, for instance, is a mouth-operated controller that is aimed at quadriplegics. It uses a combination of sip & puff sensors as well as lip-position, and converts it into sensory inputs for bluetooth/wireless controllers. The developers behind the product got backing through the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

The people over at OneSwitch also have a variety of custom setups to help gamers with different kinds of disabilities – from larger arcade sticks, foot pads, all the way to head/mouth/eye control, their catalog is by far one of the more complete ones out there.

Another prominent organization known as The AbleGamers Charity advocates hope for disabled gamers by giving visibility to new setups that can be used by people with different handicaps, as well as games that were developed with accessibility in mind.

Natural Point has an awesome product that works extremely well with PC gaming and accessibility – have a look at it!

The struggle may be real, but hope comes one step at a time.


In the end, everyone deserves a chance to have fun, which is why giving accessibility to gamers with impairments is a goal developers and gaming manufacturers should advocate in the years to come.

Did you find an interesting product that gamers with impairments could use? Drop me a line and let’s review it!

 


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8 Comments

  • Jerry says:

    Hi Raphy, you are doing a very good thing here. What I would like to know is if all this gaming has adversely affected your capabilities? What about your eyesight, any headaches? Cheers, Jerry

    • Raphy says:

      Hi Jerry,

      To be honest, not so much – gaming in moderation (no more than 2-3 hours a day) is healthy in a sense that it helps develop motor skills, muscle memory, spatial awareness, logic and decision making. Although eyestrain and headaches are susceptible to gamers due to prolonged staring at a monitor (which is mitigated in a way by anti-radiation lenses in glasses), as long as you don’t go over that limit, you’ll be okay.

      Cheers!

  • Sylvia says:

    Hi Raphy!
    Great post, I agree that everyone deserves a chance to have fun.
    I think most of the people just enjoy playing video games and never thought much about the disabled gamers.
    It’ll be great to have more video game controllers for the disabled.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Raphy says:

      Thanks Sylvia!

      Yes indeed. And it’s an interesting subject matter – in recent times the user experience of technology in fields like education has put a premium in accessibility, so I don’t see why entertainment (i.e. gaming) should be treated otherwise.

      I can definitely say that a head controller such as the SmartNav 4 AT: Natural Point is a perfect example of a peripheral that is suitable to gaming. In competitive gaming there’s a controller known as the Hitbox where, instead of having a stick or a trackball, it’s all buttons for controls. In essence this is known as a “stickless arcade stick”, but the applications also work for PC FPS gamers because the rounded buttons are bigger than that of the keyboard. So aside from being an innovation in controllers, it also doubles for accessibility!

      Cheers!

  • Emanuel says:

    Hey Raphy, this was a great post about video game controllers for the disabled.
    Finally I found a website with very good information about this matter.
    Keep up the good work. Can´t wait for your next posts.
    Thanks.

  • Tavis says:

    This is a very interesting subject. I have never really given it a thought about disabled people playing video games. Things like this totally level the playing field now everyone can enjoy gaming. I’m on board this is awesome.

    • Raphy says:

      Thanks Tavis!

      Yeah, this topic really garnered my attention as of late because of a project at work where we had a program tailor-made in consideration for people with disabilities and impairments. After going through it I remembered that story on Brolylegs and figured, it’d be nice to bring it up again.

      I’m hoping this article will get the attention disabled gamers deserve. 🙂

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