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Craig Therapists and Patients Help Inform the Design of the New Xbox Adaptive Controller

May 30, 2018

Craig Hospital's Adaptive Gaming program was born three years ago with a group of Assistive Technology Lab occupational therapists, rehab engineers and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS) and a generous grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation as a way to help patients become more involved with their therapy and to create social engagement activities for people to enjoy.

Gaming is not only a great recreational therapy for our spinal cord and brain injury patients but also an effective physical and occupational therapy practice. It can help patients increase their strength, dexterity, balance and more. "Research shows that patients have better outcomes when they are engaged with their therapy," said Erin Muston-Firsch, an occupational therapist in the Assistive Technology Lab at Craig. "Mass repetition of movement is critical in neuro recovery, and gaming gives patients a really fun and measurable way to do that."

Craig Hospital Assistive Technology Lab occupational therapists and Adaptive Gaming Program patients help inform design of Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Images courtesy of Xbox.

With that in mind, therapists and engineers worked tirelessly to find adaptive controls, switches and joysticks and other adaptive gaming resources that they could piece together to allow patients to enjoy the video games they’ve always loved to play. But customized controllers were expensive, and the adaptations didn’t always work with the assistive devices that different patients needed. Enter Microsoft and the Xbox team.

Through a grapevine connection, the team at Xbox heard about Craig and reached out to Erin. They let her know they were in the process of developing a new controller and asked if she would be willing to test it out with some of our patients. Their aim was to create an affordable, adaptive controller that people with limited mobility could modify, customize and use to play in a way that works for them.

“There’s a mantra among the disability community, which is ‘Nothing about us without us,’” said Evelyn Thomas, Accessibility Program Manager for Xbox. “That’s why we enlisted partners like Craig Hospital to gather feedback so we could create a highly customized controller that would really work for people with limited mobility.”

For the past two years, Erin and her team have been testing the controller with patients and providing feedback to Microsoft along the way. Some of the controller’s features that were changed specifically due to feedback from Craig include the angled design of the controller, the rounded edges of the box itself, and the fact that the bottom of the box is black.

“The modifications were not only things we suggested but also things [the Xbox team] simply noticed when they came to observe our patients using the device. For example, when they saw us using a lot of Velcro to attach the controllers to different surfaces, they decided a black design on the bottom would be cleaner,” says Erin.

Craig Hospital Assistive Technology Lab occupational therapists and Adaptive Gaming Program patients help inform design of Xbox Adaptive Controller.
Images courtesy of Xbox.

The Assistive Technology Lab now has three production-level Xbox Adaptive Controllers, and the Adaptive Gaming program at Craig is continuing to help our patients in many ways. The social aspect of the bi-weekly game nights at Craig has helped patients find ways to connect with each other and reconnect with their friends and families. “Gaming is the great equalizer,” says Erin. “And now I can customize adaptations based on the patient’s abilities and needs very easily. Patients don’t have to think about whether it will work or whether they can do it at all. They can now easily join in and enjoy gaming with others.”

The controller was recently announced by Microsoft, and Erin had the opportunity to visit the Inclusive Tech Lab in Seattle and help tell the story of the development of the controller to tech and gaming industry thought leaders and media around the globe.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is now available.