Man spends 30 years helping disabled gamers


Using our hands to manipulate game controllers is something most of us take for granted. However for quadriplegics, whose arms and legs are completely paralyzed, gaming becomes a nearly impossible task. One man has spent the last 30 years of his life trying to help quadriplegics once again “pick up” the controller and enjoy a few rounds of their favorite video games.

Retired aerospace engineer [Ken Yankelevitz] has been using his skills to create game controllers that can be easily used by disabled gamers, offering them for sale at cost. Starting with Atari joysticks in 1981, he has been perfecting his craft over the years, creating some 800 mouth-operated game controllers. As the systems and their controllers became more complex, so did [Ken’s] designs. His new Xbox and Playstation controllers use all manner of components, including sip-puff tubes and lip-activated buttons in order to allow users to access every single controller function.

Even as he approaches his 70th birthday, he is busy making controllers, though at a slower pace than he has in the past. He has said that he will continue making them for as long as he can, but at some point he will have to close up shop. This has disabled gamers worried that they may no longer have someone to turn to for custom controllers, though we hope someone steps in to fill the gap whenever that day comes.

Be sure to check out his site to take a look at his designs, what he has done for the disabled community is amazing.

25 thoughts on “Man spends 30 years helping disabled gamers

  1. I’m surprised there is not a major manufacturer in this market. madCatz or some one. As cheap plastic is the only investment is in the first mold and I’m sure even with a profit margin added many disabled gamer’s would be willing to purchase them. maybe even if it was made in a “kit” form where some one had to assemble it. By the way with the advancements in price dropping significantly on 3d printers and 3d printing service houses popping up everywhere this may be even easier then before. Once the 3d model is finalized the plastics could be ordered by interested gamer’s and maybe pcb/assembly done at one of these one-off pcb services also.. then you’d just need to put together the final assembly.

  2. Ken Yankelevitz is an inspiration. Thanks HaD for once again reminding the community about the need for these sorts of projects. It’s too bad the big manufacturers won’t make stuff like this dispite it not being profitable, even if for the sake of PR.

  3. If Sony wanted to start to make amends for their recent screwups, funding this guy with a no-strings contract and creating a divison to continue and expand/enhance his work to provide controllers at cost for those who are unable to use conventional pads would be a definite positive start.

  4. I like the first post about using rapid prototyping. A university or group could start an open source project to design and provide the plans for a controller that anybody can have made.

  5. This would be a perfect project for the hackerspace movement. Partner up some retired super techs with youth and pass on the skills to the next generation.

  6. I for one salute you sir. Well done and wish you the best in bringing the joy of fragging to those in need.

  7. “This has disabled gamers worried that they may no longer have someone to turn to for custom controllers, though we hope someone steps in to fill the gap whenever that day comes.”

    Upon reading this comment, I thought to myself “Ben Heck is allready in his 70s?!?” ;)

  8. The reason it’s not done commercially is because the demand is too low for it to be profitable – it would cost 5x as much. 3D printers can’t handle semiconductors, etc. and quadraplegia would prevent them from assembling it themselves.

    Unless someone is willing to take over from where he left of, it looks like his hobby will die with him. They really should create a charity in his honour, to carry on his work.

  9. I agree its a great hackerspace/open source project idea. I broached the subject with Mr Yankelevitz via email. He is sorta open to the idea but warns many of the parts are rare and have long lead times, etc. He orders big batches. To me it sounds like a digiFab project. Ken said the best way to replicate would be to buy one of his controllers and reverse engineer it.

    I’d be up for this if I wasnt buried under 10k projects already.

  10. @Haku: it’s Sony. They don’t care about their customers, so I don’t see why they would care about disabled gamers.

    Since Ken Yankelevitz doesn’t know how long he would be able to build his devices, I think it would be great to open source everything. That way, people could continue his work.

  11. Open source it, redesign some part for easy 3d printing and hope smoe hackerspaces pitch in!

    DO IT internetz! :)

  12. When a little bloody microswitch cost $100 to allow my son to do some switching on his computer this guy is a god… in disability think of how much it should cost and add a zero. With him doing it at cost it will be making HUGE differences in peoples lives.

    Perhaps he could have a stab at usb switches on the iPad …please please so ProLoQuo2Go can feature scan and select…

  13. See, not all hackers are evil *cough*

    Great to look at some work, that has a proper function or relative goal.

    Damn, it would suck, not being able to game. No more campers and stuff.

  14. @R

    “Unless someone is willing to take over from where he left of, it looks like his hobby will die with him. They really should create a charity in his honour, to carry on his work.”

    Recommend taking a look here – there are many working on accessible controllers, and some charities needing hacker community support:

  15. Let’s not forget everyone’s favorite console hacker, Ben “benheck” Heckendorn. He’s long been making one-handed and other types of controllers for disabled folks.

  16. While Ben’s work is nice, these controllers seem quite a bit more advanced than his. A one handed controller is tricky – a no handed controller is downright difficult.

    Besides, I have not seen him do a whole hell of a lot since starting in on his video gig. Aside from those videos of course.

  17. @Quinn Dunki

    That was my thought too. Ben Heck has made some pretty innovative controllers. A big tip of the hat to both him and Ken Yankelevitz for their work. It’s nice to see people who aren’t disabled doing something for disabled people – a great show of selfless behavior.

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