Power wheelchairs are absolutely indispensable for people living with mobility difficulties, and they can be controlled in a variety of ways in order to fit the needs of individual users. They’re also quite expensive. The most affordable models start at around $1,500, but can sometimes cost ten times that amount. Those power wheelchairs are often tailored to the individual, and users will develop a muscle memory for driving them. If you use a power wheelchair, you can now take advantage of that muscle memory and use its joystick as an Xbox controller thanks to the fantastic work of AbleGamers and ATMakers.
We have been very impressed with Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller, which facilitates gaming for people who have disabilities. The Xbox Adaptive Controller lets you easily attach different buttons and joysticks that suit your particular mobility restrictions in order to let you play the video games that might not have been accessible in the past. But if your mobility is particularly limited, even that might prove to be inadequate. Fortunately, you can now take advantage of the physical therapy you’ve already done to control you wheelchair and use those skills to play video games.
That’s all possible thanks to the Freedom Wing Adapter. This adapter acts as an intermediary between your power wheelchair’s controls and the Xbox Adaptive Controller. It works with a standard 9-pin proportional joystick output, which is used in many power wheelchair models. If your wheelchair has a different kind of connector, it should still be possible to modify the Freedom Wing Adapter to work. That adapter fits the Adafruit FeatherWing standard, which means it can work in conjunction with any of Adafruit’s Feather line of development boards.
It’s the job of the board, like the Adafruit Feather M4 Express, to understand the output from the wheelchair’s joystick and then translate that into signals that the Xbox Adaptive Controller can recognize. The Freedom Wing Adapter itself will cost about $7 to produce, and a compatible Adafruit Feather board can be purchased for less than $20. With the addition of a 3D-printed enclosure, they total cost for everything should be less than $35 (plus the cost of the Xbox and Xbox Adaptive Controller).
If you’d like to get your own Freedom Wing Adapter, AbleGamers Charity will be making the design files and build instructions available for free soon. They are also working on grants to give adapters out to gamers who need them. Be sure to follow them on Twitter to find out more as they post new information in the future.