Leveling the playing field – TechCrunch

Williesha Morris has been a journalist and freelancer for over a decade. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, playing video games, or chatting about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In 2011 a product Developer named Fred Davison read an article about the inventor Ken Yankelevitz and his QuadControl video game controller for quadriplegics. At that time, Yankelevitz was about to retire. Davison wasn’t a player, but he said his mother, who suffered from the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, inspired him to pick up where Yankelevitz wanted to leave off.

Introduced in 2014, Davison’s QuadStick is the latest version of the Yankelevitz controller – one that has attracted interest in a wide variety of industries.

“The QuadStick was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Davison told TechCrunch. “And I get a lot of feedback on what it means for [disabled gamers] to be able to participate in these games. “

Laying of the foundation stone

Erin Muston-Firsch, an occupational therapist at Craig Hospital in Denver, says that adaptive gaming tools like the QuadStick revolutionized the hospital’s therapy team.

Six years ago she developed a rehabilitation solution for a college student suffering from a spinal cord injury. She says he enjoyed playing video games but was unable to use his hands due to his injury. The rehab regime included Davison’s invention that enabled the patient to play World of Warcraft and Destiny.


Jackson “Pitbull” Reece is a successful Facebook streamer who uses his mouth to operate the QuadStick and the XAC (Xbox Adaptive Controller), a controller developed by Microsoft for people with disabilities to provide user input for video games. More accessible.

Reece lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident in 2007 and later lost the use of his upper body due to an infection. He remembers a workable life made up mostly of sports video games. He says being part of the gaming community is an important part of his sanity.

Fortunately, there is an atmosphere of collaboration, not competition, to create hardware for gamers within the assistive technology community.

While not every major tech company has been proactive in designing accessibility, after-market devices are available to create tailored gaming experiences for disabled gamers.

Enter Microsoft

At his 2015 hackathon, Microsoft’s Inclusive Lead Bryce Johnson met with the Disabled Veteran’s Advocacy Association Warfighter engaged.

“At the same time, we’ve been evolving our views on inclusive design,” said Johnson. Indeed, eEight generations of game consoles created barriers for disabled gamers.

“Controllers were optimized for a primary use case where assumptions were made,” said Johnson. Indeed, the buttons and triggers on a traditional controller are designed for capable individuals who have the stamina to use them.

In addition to Warfighter Engaged, Microsoft partnered with AbleGamers (the best-known charity for disabled gamers), Craig Hospital, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and Special Effect, a UK-based charity for young disabled gamers.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

The finished XAC, released in 2018, is intended for players with limited mobility to play seamlessly with other players. One of the details that gamers commented on was that the XAC looks like a consumer device, not a medical device.

“We knew we couldn’t design this product to the this community, ”Johnson told TechCrunch. “We had to design this product With this community. We believe in “nothing about us without us”. Our principles of inclusive design encourage us to involve communities from the start. “

The giants take over

There were others who got involved. Like many inventions, the creation of the Liberty Wing was a bit of a fluke.

At his stand at an AT (Assistive Technology) conference, Bill Binko from ATMakers presented a doll called “Ella” with the ATMakers joystick, an electric wheelchair device. Also present was Steven Spohn, who is part of the Brain Trust behind AbleGamers.

Spohn saw the joystick and told Binko he wanted a similar device to work with the XAC. The freedom wing was ready within six weeks. It was about manipulating the sensors to control a game controller instead of a chair. This device did not require months of research and development or testing as it had already been tested on the street as a power wheelchair device.

ATMakers Freedom Wing 2

Binko says mom and pop companies are leading the way in changing the face of accessible gaming technology. Companies like Microsoft and Logitech have only recently gained a foothold.

ATMakers, QuadStick, and other smaller developers were meanwhile busy disrupting the industry.

“Everyone gets [gaming] and it gives people the opportunity to engage with their community, ”said Binko. “Gaming is something that people can take care of and participate in.”

Barriers to entry

As technology advances, so do the barriers to accessibility. These challenges include the lack of support teams, security, licensing, and VR.

Managing the support teams for these devices is a new hurdle as demand increases, Binko said. More people with technological skills are needed to get into the AT industry and help with the creation, installation, and maintenance of equipment.

Security and licensing are not in the hands of small developers like Davison because they require financial and other resources to work with various hardware companies. For example, with each new generation of consoles, the technology used to enforce Sony’s licensing requirements is becoming increasingly complex.

With Davison’s technical background, he understands the limitations of protecting proprietary information. “You spend a lot of money developing a product and you want to control every aspect of it,” said Davison. “Just makes it hard for the little guy to work with him.”

And while PlayStation has led the way in button mapping, according to Davison, the security process is strict. He doesn’t understand how it benefits the console company by preventing users from using the controller they want.

“The cryptography for the PS5 and DualSense controllers has not yet been cracked, so adapter devices such as the ConsoleTuner Titan Two have to find other weak points, such as the informal” man in the middle “attack,” said Davison.

With this technology, devices can use older generation PlayStation controllers as an intermediary between the QuadStick and the latest generation console so that players with disabilities can play the PS5. TechCrunch reached out to Sony’s accessibility department, whose representative said there are no immediate plans for a customizable PlayStation or controller. However, they said their department worked with lawyers and game developers to check accessibility from day one.

In contrast, Microsoft’s licensing system is more forgiving, especially with the XAC and the ability to use older generation controllers with newer systems.

“Compare the PC industry to the Mac,” said Davison. “You can put together a PC system from a dozen different manufacturers, but not for the Mac. One is an open standard and the other is closed. “

A more accessible future

In November, the Japanese controller company HORI released an officially licensed accessibility controller for the Nintendo Switch. It is not currently available for sale in the United States, but there are no regional restrictions on how it can be purchased online. This latest development suggests a more accessible Nintendo, although the company hasn’t fully embraced the technology yet.

Nintendo’s accessibility department declined a full interview but sent a statement to TechCrunch. “Nintendo strives to offer products and services that can be used by everyone. Our products offer a range of input aids such as key mapping, motion control, zoom, grayscale and inverted colors, haptic and audio feedback, and other innovative gaming options. In addition, Nintendo’s software and hardware developers continue to evaluate various technologies to expand this accessibility to current and future products. “

The push for more accessible hardware for disabled gamers has not gone smoothly. Many of these devices were developed by small business owners with little capital. In some cases, companies with a determination to be inclusive have been involved in the earliest stages of development.

Slowly but surely, however, assistive technology is advancing in such a way that the experience is becoming much more accessible for players with disabilities.

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