POSSUM 1960: The Birthplace of the modern-day Assistive Technology Movement

Another incredible video from POSSUM for those fascinated with the history of Assistive Technology (AT) or Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

You can catch a glimpse of my personal hero, Reg Maling, in this clip (in white lab coat) who alongside Derek Clarkson built the POSM device (Patient Operated Selector Mechanism). Amongst many firsts, was the first sip-puff input device, the first electronic scan and select environmental control system and the first Electronic AAC device that wasn't morse-code based. This also led into the Possum User Association (now the Sequal Trust), which brought together (and was run by) people using this new pioneering assistive technology.

The influence of the POSM through the people it reached is hard to over-state. This included many thousands of people enabled by this technology to live fuller more independent lives such as the poet Hilary Pole and computer programmer Dick Boydell. It influenced the likes of AbilityNet, NASA, Toby Churchill, the systems used by Stephen Hawking, the work Apple do today with switch access and much more.

I'm hoping to spread a little more light on this underestimated work and its influence with my book the One Switch 100.

A young man in a wheelchair has a sip-puff tube in his mouth, looking at an illuminated alphabet and command board in front of him (via light-bulbs). A type-writer with magnifying glass sits between them.

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"Enabling Freedom with Motor Control"

Diagram of a hanging canvus with a round ink plotting device suspended by two wires connected to motors and circuitry. To be controlled by eye-gaze.

The electronics company Element14 has recently announced 13 first stage winners of their Make Life Accessible - Enabling Freedom with Motor Control design challenge. It's not too late for anyone to enter the ultimate competition though. I've been given the honour of being on the judging panel, with my SpecialEffect hat on. I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes from this.

The final date to enter a complete project is the 6th of June with the winners announced on the 21st of June. You can follow the latest updates on the Make Life Accessible Blog.

There are fantastic prizes on offer the prize list including an Oculus Rift with controller, GoPro Hero camera and to be featured on the Ben Heck Show. Here's some of the entrants so far:

  • 1. Yao Feng CN: Intelligent elbow motion assist module, provides assistance with upper arm movement
  • 2. Ambrogio Galbusera IT: Eye tracker and automated drawing system
  • 3. Douglas Wong CA: Solar powered device that directs sunlight onto a surface to melt snow
  • 4. David Delebassee BE: Pen top/cap remover
  • 5. Graham Webber SA: Smart storage system to make objects and items accessible
  • 6. Brenda Armour CA: Mobile resting station to lift cats up and down
  • 7. Carlos Rios MX: Vibrating glove for two way communication
  • 8. Benjamin Bonnal CH: Automated bedside drawer opener
  • 9. Mocanu Andreea Catalina RO: Motorized guiding stick for people with usual impairment
  • 10. Alexandros Pilios NL: MOBRAS: Motorized Brain Assist. Modular system with motion, assistive and brain modules
  • 11. Scott Coppersmith US: Motorized articulating table top
  • 12. Bram Kools NL: Adjustable room furniture
  • 13. Tyler Roush US: Motorizes carousel system to allow a person to reach something out of the top of a cupboard.

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Inclusive Gaming with Xbox One

Microsoft deserve a standing ovation (whilst mouthing "don't stop now") for their current attitudes to game accessibility. For quite some time they have been welcoming interactions and dialogue with the accessible gaming community via their Xbox Uservoice Ease of Access and beyond.

The top two videos give clear explanation direct from Microsoft of the current Xbox One accessibility features. The middle video was recorded last night featuring the trail-blazing Microsoft accessibility advocate Bryce "We're always listening" Johnson. MS are demonstrating a genuine desire to make all their products more inclusive. It's not entirely new, as people like Brannon Zahand have been banging the drum at Microsoft for many years. The difference now is in the sheer number of people with a greater understanding and passion for this stuff in the right roles. After a visit to Redmond with Ian Hamilton and Tara Voelker as part of the IGDA GASIG, we saw nothing but positive attitudes and tantalising possibilities.

The last video is a very short clip of the Xbox One exclusive Forza 2: Horizon, played using two-buttons for steering and a Jason Hotchkiss "Shout Box". This allows for broad-target steering and sound control to toggle the accelerator at a very low speed on and off. The beauty of Forza 2: Horizon for anyone is the open world allowing you to even churn across fields with no penalty.

One huge benefit of the Xbox One over PS4, Wii-U and iOS devices is that the standard joypad controller does not have motion sensors as part of it's make up. That means that almost all games will be compatible potentially with the largest range of custom controllers (albeit through something like a Titan One and PC link-up, XIM4 or Brook adapter). That's a massive plus, especially for gaming redux methods and those unable to deftly carry and move a controller through the air.

Additionally, the Xbox One back-wards compatibility with a lot of Xbox 360 games is a great boost (although sadly not stuff like Shoot 1UP and SY:NSO from the Indie Arcade, nor the wonderful Happy Action Theatre Kinect activity). New games like: FIFA 16 with reduced controls options and fully adjustable difficulty level settings... Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat blind accessibility design.... Life is Strange configurable subtitles.... Remappable controls within the game..... Evolve's various features and descriptions on-line of accessibility features are a blessing. Microsoft are some developers are starting to step up to the plate. It's time for more to do so too to make gaming a more inclusive thing (not forgetting the hard-core players too). Something for everyone should not be a hard thing to find.

From my OneSwitch side, I'm working one one-switch, two-switch and stick and a few button methods of controlling the Xbox One with full graphical and spoken help guides as you step through an infinite range of gaming possibilities. Just need time.

Today, being Global Accessibility Awareness Day (what would Ian Dury think I wonder) sees three talks on game accessibility streamed then stored on YouTube. One from Bryce Johnson (as above), one from Naughty Dog on Uncharted accessibility and one from Ian Hamilton on how things moved on in 2015. I'm really looking forward to what comes next in the world of accessible gaming. Maybe a race to the top between Microsoft, Sony, iOS, Steam and [muttering under breath] Nintendo.

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Uncharted 4 (PS4): Accessibility

Naughty Dog's Uncharted 4 shares something in common with a small but growing number of big-name games: Accessibility options. Finally. :) So what's it got?

Accessibility Options Up Front: Uncharted 4 is proud of the options, and quite rightly offers them up to everyone on the very first start up of the game.

Controller Accessibility Options: The core controls are complex as you can see in this short Uncharted 4 controls video. The up-side is that six-axis motion control is not used and the track-pad is kept to basic use as a simple push-button. This enables compatibility with a very wide range of alternative access controllers (most of which can't simulate six-axis nor fine control over the track-pad). See the video above for some examples. This is a 10 years old barrier dating back to the Wii and PS3 that kills access in games for many players (try playing Heavy-Rain, Wii Bowling or Flower without using the motion sensors and see how far you get).

Additionally, Uncharted has a lovely option to help reduce button mashing in QTE-like (Quick Time Event) action scenes. You can just hold a button rather than having to rapidly tap it. More than this, there are camera sensitivity adjustments and assist modes that allow you to quickly line up the camera or lock-on aiming on the push of a button. There are some basic remapping options too. It's important to say that the PS4 has some nice in-built controller access features that not all players are aware of who may benefit from them. These include the on-line "Share Play: Play Together" mode if you have a fast enough connection (also possible in the same room if you have the right adapter and two controllers), and fuller remapping options.

Difficulty Level adjustment: A meaningful range from Explorer to Crushing. Explorer mode is the easiest (good description as "Easy" is so arbitrary, and for some players there is no such thing as "Easy"). Some elements of the game still require a very high level of skill and timing, but much of the game is made hugely more playable for many. It has game hints, tutorials, threat indicators and NPC marking to help work out who is who (I think, I didn't test that particular feature) in multi-player games.

Subtitles: Dialogue is well-done, but these would be much improved if they included text descriptions of music and sounds, colour-coding and a sans serif font option. See the video below for a (rough) possibility.

Quick Start: Nice and easy to get going. There's no requirement to install anything and there's a hugely welcome "Chapter Select" and "Encounter Select" option so you can keep practising and enjoying unlocked areas.

Visuals: Visual hints give you a nice idea upon where to search for items or clues (at least in Explorer mode). Additionally, the in-built PS4 accessibility options allow you to Zoom in on certain areas (although not play whilst magnified) and even invert the colour-scheme if this is helpful at all.

Four Suggested Improvements: 1. Improve the subtitles/closed-captions. 2. List accessibility features in an easy to find way. 3. Don't forget that some alternative access controllers won't have six-axis, any track-pad compatibility nor rumble-motors (perhaps make the journal accessible via the options button and menu). These are real PS4 problems all developers should be aware of from day one. 4. Consider a reduced control scheme option in future games. Something like FIFA16's Two-Button mode or Wii Mario Karts choice of Wii-remote or traditional controller.

Uncharted 4 is far from the only recent big name game worthy of accessibility praise: The Chinese Room's Everybody's Gone to the Rapture on PC and EA's FIFA 16. The sound design in Microsoft's Killer Instinct and Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch. The colour-blind options in Bungie's Destiny. The font-size choice in Don'tnod's Life is Strange. Thanks to Ian Hamilton for some of these examples.

Things are certainly improving, but there's a long way to go before you can buy any game and expect the developer to have taking into account at least a basic level of accessibility. That day will come. Meanwhile, I recommend developers take a look at the likes of Game Accessibility Guidelines and AbleGamer's Includification for further inspiration. For those dipping a toe, take a look at the SpecialEffect Top 5 Game Accessibility Tips or the IGDA GASIG Top 10.

A man looks down at the floor appearing in a dimly lit path surrounded by thick jungle foliage. Text reads, Accessibility features in Unchartered 4: A Thief's End. Game Accessibility Information symbol is above the 4, the joy-pad rider.

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She's Lost Control

Via: Rob Fearon.

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Possum ZX Spectrum

In 1982 the legendary assistive technology company Possum created a range of accessible computers intended primarily for use in UK schools. Amongst these were three special ZX Spectrums: The Desktop Scanning model, the Brief-case Scanning model and the Expanded Keyboard.

The video above was uploaded by David Crockford at Possum from their amazing archive of assistive technology dating back to the 1960s. Read a little more on the Possum ZX Spectrum in the February 1983 ZX Computing magazine. This and much more will be appearing in my book the One Switch 100.

Image of an up-right Possum ZX Spectrum. A large briefcase version of the ZX Spectrum with canning LEDs and dials to control the scanning speed and sound. Alongside a small colour TV with an image of the UK. In front of the Possum is a cassette player and small thermal printer, with the same image of the UK.

A black and white image of a Possum ZX Spectrum and expanded keyboard.

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Light-weight Xbox One joypad

Black joypad with four gold round sockets in the inner grips.

The Xbox One joypad above has been made much lighter to use via an ingenious (and inexpensive) technique developed at SpecialEffect by Bill Donegan and Gavin Tan.

The main benefits in doing this are in making a controller that is far more comfortable for people with reduced strength, or those using their chin to play. You can see a D.I.Y. guide at OneSwitch and much of it is applicable to various other joypads for Playstation and Xbox.

The main difference (normally) with joypads is the TP (test points) that you can solder the switch sockets to. The pin-outs for the more recent Xbox One joypad are in the picture from Gav below (click on it for a bigger view). There's also some excellent pin-out / TP / "VIA" help for the Playstation 3 here.

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THIS (brick wall keeps you out and it has to be that way for artistic reasons)

Rob Fearon has said it well in Engage (copied and added to below), Toolkit and Easy regarding difficulty and accessibility in video games. Some people in video game culture argue that you shouldn't add easier play options to certain precious games. They often draw analogies with "difficult-art" in other media not being watered down and made more accessible.

If I want to engage with a book:

1) I can buy the normal version of the book.
2) I can buy a large print edition of the book.
3) If a large print edition isn’t available, I can buy an [e-book] version and adjust the font size on there or use a screen magnifier.
4) I can buy a braille edition of the book.
5) I can buy an audio version of the book.
+6) I can read it at my own pace and skip sections that I find too hard / boring.
+7) The entire content of the book is available to me immediately (it's fully unlocked).
+8) I can get help with bits that are too hard from a dictionary.

If I want to engage with a film:

1) I can watch the normal version of the film
2) I can engage with a version of a film with subtitles
3) I can engage with a version of a film with closed captions
4) I can engage with the film using hearing assists
5) I can engage with the film using audio description
6) If I catch the BBC or something at the right time, I might be able to watch a signed version of it too although this is more usual for TV.
[+6 to +8 above also apply].

If I want to engage with a game:

1) I can play the normal version of the game
2) Or get told to shit off and go and play something else but that’s OK because we’ve got loads of graphics sliders and stuff like that we insist upon *slides them up and down for a bit instead*

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One Handed Remote Control Adaptation

This short video from Dan Eastland follows up some support work I did via SpecialEffect last year. You can view a SpecialEffect help-sheet here that we worked on with various ideas. Dan went on to find a better solution for himself (pictured below), using window/door insulation tape and rubber grip tape.

It's a fine solution but Dan feels it could be improved further with a replacement custom 3D printed wheel probably with grip tape added. If anyone has any experience of doing this please get in touch and I'll pass the info onto Dan.

Wheel and trigger style hand-set with tape to expand the wheel.


Power Pill (Aphex Twin - 1992)


Burn the Witch (Radiohead)




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