Accessible Game Controllers  

Author: Paul Robinson – HabITec Ambassador and the HabITec team.

Published: 3 March 2022

“I hadn’t tried any gaming since my accident, as I am unable to use the standard controllers.”

My name is Paul, I’m a 36-year-old mechanical engineering undergraduate with Griffith University and C6 quadriplegic. As part of my work, I enjoy finding new ways to use technology to solve everyday problems. I have experience in designing and printing in 3D to adapt things, particularly for the challenges I have with my own hand dexterity and ease of movement, acquired in an accident in 2015 – which, thankfully, has been improved with nerve and tendon transfers, giving me back some hand function.

I hadn’t tried any gaming since my accident, as I am unable to use the standard controllers. This never really bothered me much, as I wasn’t a big gamer prior. Now however, through talking and interacting with other gamers, including those with disability and their experiences, I found it to be a great way to connect with people and to compete on a level playing field – particularly during periods of COVID lock-down! 

As my skill and interests grew, I became more interested in extending my gaming capabilities, and started looking into accessible off-the-shelf options that would increase my playing capability. 

At the beginning of my gaming journey, I started out by trying to use a standard mouse and keyboard setup – which worked to the point whereby I could play, but in terms of being competitive, I was severely restricted.

I’d already heard of the Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller and sought out some videos to see how it performed – and it looked like a good product. After further investigation however, I realised this controller is more of an interface, where you can attach custom joysticks, buttons and switches, and less of a controller itself. I also looked at price points of different components – and considering I would still have to build something to mount all the different parts, I decided to move on and seek out other options.

After further investigation, I found some products from small-scale manufacturers, but nothing that wouldn’t require more modification to suit my requirements. I also explored custom game controllers and found some extremely intricate flight controllers that hobbyists had built. However again, this option was not ideal, as what I needed was nowhere near the complexity of these setups. I also found that these systems were using a micro controller, which could connect any input device, and knew that using this concept, it meant I could use cheaper generic joysticks and buttons – which would bring the cost of a custom design down significantly.

At a dead end and given my background in engineering, I was convinced that if I was going to have to modify something, it would be easier to start from scratch and design my own one-off controller that would perfectly suit the dexterity/limitations of my hand and wrist function.

Using my skills as an engineer, I designed a housing that held four (4) buttons and a joystick and made two (2) of these – one to use with each hand. I used less buttons than a typical game controller, but designed my new device so I could control everything using wrist and arm movements – because my fingers can be unpredictable. Additional buttons could be added later, but for now, I will just use a keyboard for these functions. My setup is designed to work mounted on a desk so that I don’t have to hold the controller and can rest my elbows on the desktop giving me more stability.

This could easily be modified to mount on someone’s chair, lap or a table you can wheel under. Using larger and more spaced-out buttons allows the user to use arm and wrist movements and not rely on finger dexterity, it also allows for better ergonomic comfort.

“The controller should work well with any person with a similar injury level, as it relies on simple arm and wrist movements.”

The controller should work well with any person with a similar in jury level, as it relies on simple arm and wrist movements.

This project is ongoing, and at this point in the engineering phase, I have designed and 3D printed a housing for the components (see images). The next step will be to wire and test it – and get back to some serious gaming using a customised and modified device that makes gaming more accessible and enjoyable overall.

Download a PDF version of this article here.

About the Author:

Paul Robinson is a Citizen Ambassador and HabITec co-researcher. Paul brings a wealth of expertise in 3D design and printing, enabling us to use modern technology to solve everyday problems. Paul is currently studying for his Bachelor of Engineering at Griffith University and is a keen wheelchair rugby player for the Queensland Cyclones.

More information:

Paul Robinson: 


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