(Left) Controller parts (Right) Lap pad (via Caleb Kraft & )
Gaming, computer access and use of digital devices can help any person learn and have fun. The ways in which they are used are not always as simple as we take them to be. Disabilities have a wide range of ways they can manifest which could make the use of digital systems painful, awkward, inefficient and even impossible.
Caleb Kraft does not call himself a hacker. He says his skills involve spreading information and connecting people together. However, when he learned about the highly inflated costs attached to simple computer switches intended to make use of computers etc. more accessible for people with disabilities, he decided to put his hacker hat on and create something to help a boy named Thomas with muscular dystrophy. While Thomas’s condition is not very rare, the way this disorder impacts other people can be very different so one controller is not necessarily suited for all. Recognizing that making digital controllers for people with disabilities can boil down to a per-case basis, Kraft created an open source project called The Controller Project to bring people who want to help together with people who need it.
The controller setup used by Thomas to play Minecraft (via Caleb Kraft)
Caleb’s controller for Thomas was one specifically designed to help Thomas play Minecraft, his favorite computer game. At the moment, Thomas can still use a regular video game controller but his abilities will diminish in time. In anticipation of his condition worsening, Thomas is able to apart all three components of his custom controller and Velcro them to a lap pad in a way that is comfortable for him.
These three components run on an Arduino micro and are tethered together using a Teensy board. Kraft created a D-pad, hacked a PSP joystick, and a button pad that Thomas can use to play Minecraft. These components simply emulate keyboard keys like A, S, D, W for directions, E, Q, space bar for accessing game inventories and functions as well as mouse clicks and movements. This means that no software installation is necessary.
Kraft created the plastic housings for these controllers using a 3D printer given to him by Luckily Lulzbot for prototyping the project. He used super cheap 6mm momentary pressure switches, some of which he modified to be pressed with levers, lowering the weight necessary to depress them from 60 grams to 15 grams.
With strong desire to provide these services to people with special needs, The Controller Project is collecting very interesting tools and making them part of the public domain. A project called BlinkTalk allows users to put strings of words together using nothing but the blinking of their eyes. Another accessibility tool uses a TV IR remote in place of a mouse for controlling the on screen cursor. The low-pressure switches Kraft created are also sold on the site for just $20. Of course, the parts lists and source code for Thomas’s controller are there and the community is encouraged to improve upon them.
People interested in helping can find links to other organizations like ablegamers.com where they can be put in contact with people looking for custom controllers. People can share custom requests and controllers can be donated but Kraft points out that charging for labor is fair and often times results in a product that is still much cheaper than commercially available units.
The basic Arduino code for setting up the keyboard emulator can be found on here http://thecontrollerproject.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=19 . When the free market can’t help, hackers and the community will do the job just fine. See also, the AbleGamers Foundation for more info on how to help people with disabilities enjoy some gaming...
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