Xbox Adaptive Controller Inspired by Veterans, Stories Behind the Fun Leave a comment

Video Games– The mecca for fun, imagination and adventure without leaving your living room. Its modern day magic! It is something we take for granted, but if you are not able to use a game controller -due to a mobility impairment perhaps- simple is the last word you would use to describe this activity.

Introducing Switch Access

Switches have been a part of gaming since the beginning. The original Atari Joystick was an array of 5 switches, one for each direction and one to fire. Since then, controllers have evolved with many more buttons and more advanced joysticks. But going back to the basics can make gaming possible for those that can use a traditional controller. No matter what movement ability individuals have access to, there is a switch to help. From slight finger touches to a forceful blink, switches and technology with accessibility features make electronics more inclusive.

If you are familiar with assistive technology, we can predict that you have seen plenty of accessibility tools for those living with impairments. Most of the time they are for daily necessities like dictation or mobility assistance. Though these are significant in everyday living, what about assistive technology for leisure or therapy? The opportunity to engage in fun activities can work as a therapy for the mind and body, moreover improving the quality of life for an individual.

Microsoft Adaptive Controller

Listed as one of Time Magazine’s best inventions of 2018, the Microsoft Adaptive Controller has changed video gaming forever and for the better.  This innovation allows for individuals with limited fine-motor skills to connect desired ability switches with their Xbox Adaptive Controller. This combination enables users to participate in the online gaming community, establishes bonds with peers, and provides a way to have fun!

Whether users choose to play independently or with their peers through Xbox Live, “Microsoft has made massive strides in the promotion of accessibility.” However, it is important to note that they did not accomplish this innovation all on their own.  We spoke with Warfighter Engaged (WFE) Founder, Ken Jones for his side of the story on how the Xbox Adaptive Controller became a reality.

Who is Warfighter Engaged?

Warfighter Engaged “is a volunteer charitable non-profit with a mission to improve the lives of severely wounded and disabled warfighters through custom adapted devices.”

These devices truly assist veterans in whatever way they require, from automatic lighters to gaming controllers like the one made with Microsoft.  In our opinion, WFE indeed is the closest thing to Santa’s workshop for adults.

“We never charge them and have no motivation other than doing whatever is necessary to get them back to playing.” – Ken Jones

Now, their main priority is to provide veterans with access to gaming. WFE believes that regardless of one’s condition, access to leisurely activities is essential. From the perspective of a company or a caregiver, it is appreciated to find resources and solutions to allow veterans to live their life to the fullest.

The Origin Story

It all began when a Microsoft engineer named Matt Hite, was looking to be of assistance for a charity that supports veterans with technology access. Being from Seattle, he contacted Warfighter Engaged founder, Ken Jones. Matt is a computer savvy person, so he knew he “could contribute to our mission using his skill set. That led to many conversations centred around what WFE ultimately needed to do to service our severely disabled veterans.”

Ken explained that the request Matt initially introduced was a “game controller in a box. A basic circuit board with screw terminals or solder joints that I could connect to and make the extensive game controller mods easier and faster.” Before this controller, it was an expensive endeavour for users with an impairment or their caregivers to request a device that could allow gameplay with external buttons. After plenty of hard work and creativity, the team at WFE and Microsoft were able to simplify the idea of a controller in a box to a gaming controller with ports for external switches.  

The innovation went on to win the 2015 Microsoft Hackathon’s “top prize and led a different employee team to create another device for Microsoft’s company-wide hackathon later that year, a unit that attached to an Xbox controller and allowed users who had difficulty navigating a traditional controller to plug in additional buttons and switches.

Veteran playing with the xbox adaptive controller- image provided by Warfighter Engaged

Assistive Tech User Stories

Avid Gamer, Dan Bertholomey: From Pong to “Madden Nation, Dan loved the imagination, competition, and opportunity gaming provided. After Dan suffered from a bad motorcycle accident, he was nervous he had lost his ability to game. Dan tried to play only with one hand but knew that would never suffice. With the new Xbox Adaptive Controller made in collaboration with Warfighter Engaged, he says to the reporter from Microsoft that “I want to compete again in eSports. The future is bright. The future is exciting.”

Access to a cellphone, Ian Ralston: While serving the U.S. Army in 2010, a tiny ball bearing from an improvised explosive device (IED) hit Ian. He was left paralyzed from the neck down. Since using the Tecla, his life changed as he was able to access his iPhone, take pictures of his children and have his voice heard in the veteran community.

Technology empowers

There are technological solutions for almost everything in the world. Access to devices is something that abled people take for granted but for certain individuals, using a touch screen smartphone is not the most straightforward task. Innovations like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and tecla-e allow for independence, control and freedom to live life more freely within the online world. For more information about technology access for veterans,  be sure to check out the tecla-e and Warfighter Engaged.

“Don’t give up on anyone! Ask the question and give them the opportunity to say no.” – Ken Jones

** This post was originally published on

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