How an adaptive game controller helps my family bond


“Catch that ghost, Henri. Grab it. Now! “I heard my 6 year old son screaming on his way home. It is not uncommon to hear him scream. But he is rare to hear him shouting directions to his older brother.

I smelled a whiff of mini grilled pizzas as I walked down the stairs looking for my family and found an all-out game night. My three children, ages 10, 8 and 6, were lying on the furniture and the floor with my husband. Snacks and drinks were strewn about as they played the 2006 ghost hunters video game for Xbox.

“Check it out! Henri uses the Xbox adaptive controllermy husband shouted over the in-game music. I looked and saw Henry propped up in a bean bag chair. Every time his arm pressed a big red button, a proton pack strapped to the back of a ghost hunter projected energy beams onto the screen.

A smile spread across my face as I watched my family play together. This should be normal, but it is not. Even though my kids are so close in age, it’s hard to find activities that they can share.

Henry is my second child. He was born prematurely, extremely small, and needed medical attention. The day after he was born, I learned that I had caught a virus (Cytomegalovirus) when I was pregnant, and it impacted her brain development. The prognosis was that he would probably never be able to walk on his own or speak. This diagnosis forever changed my view of accessibility and inclusion.

For the first two years of Henry’s life, he had very little control over his muscles. Before age 1, she was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Henry has participated in hundreds of hours of physiotherapy, and over the years he has slowly grown stronger. He can now hold his body in the air, move his arms and legs, and stand for brief periods with support. But even with his progress, Henry becomes tired of moving his body.

Despite his physical limitations, Henry is a smart and sassy kid who enjoys playing and being right in the middle of the fun. My husband and I do our best to make everything fit so Henry can participate, but it’s not easy. Henry attends a different school than his siblings, and most extracurricular activities outside of school are not organized to accommodate his limitations. Family outings, like amusement parks, also present many challenges related to mobility.

Most of Henry’s adaptive equipment, such as his wheelchair and his eye-gaze communication device, is expensive. We have to order it through an equipment clinic in a hospital or at Henry’s school. It can take four months or more before a piece of equipment is approved by insurance and delivered for use (if insurance covers it). We need the help of a specialist to configure the equipment each time we receive an item, as well as when it grows and develops.

It’s not often that we find suitable equipment that can be bought off the shelf and used right away, especially with an activity the whole family enjoys. This is where the Adaptive Xbox Controller comes in. It connects directly to our Xbox like a typical controller. The biggest difference is that it has big buttons on its surface, which are great for people with limited mobility.

Henry can use the big black buttons on the controller, or we can plug in a soft touch peripheral button. Each button can be configured to match any of the buttons on a typical controller. We can also use a variety of external switches at the same time.

For example, when we play ghost hunters, the right trigger (RT) button on a typical controller triggers the proton pack. We plug Henry’s external button into the port labeled “RT” on the back of the adaptive controller. Then when it presses the external button, it performs the same function as if you pressed the right trigger. We can also make the two buttons on the adaptive controller perform the same function, so that if it goes past its target and misses one button but hits the other, it still gets the desired result.

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