In recent months I have been working closely with a young client to increase her independence during school and play activities. As part of this process, we trialled the Optima and Point It joysticks through the Enable Ireland loan library.
The Optima joystick is the cheaper of the two products, retailing from £175. A newer version, the n-Abler joystick, is also available and has more features and functions, but the selling point of the Optima seems to be its simplicity and therefore suitability for younger users or those with intellectual disability. The large platform of the Optima does provide stability and a natural resting place for the hand. The user was attracted to the clean, clear design and felt comfortable with it straight away. It did not take long to teach the functions of the three large coloured buttons – left-clicking, right-clicking and speed adjustment. It was helpful that the buttons were recessed into the panel as this made it unlikely they would be pressed by accident.
The Optima is supplied by Pretorian Technologies who were very helpful in answering my queries and also recommended two newer products, the Slimline Joystick for smaller hands and the Ultra joystick, a more compact product for use with the head or chin. Unfortunately as they did not have a distributor in Ireland at the time, we were unable to trial these products. More information is available on their website: https://www.pretorianuk.com/joysticks. A feature I liked is that these joysticks all come with a variety of interchangeable knobs included, rather than having to purchase these separately.
The Point It joystick, supplied by Housemate, is a smaller model which is easy to fit on a small space next to a laptop or keyboard. It has four buttons around the platform which cover left and right-clicking, double-clicking and speed adjustment. It is a more expensive product with prices starting from €476. Initially this user preferred the Optima joystick as the buttons were larger and she found them easier to use. However what made the biggest difference with the Point It joystick, in this case, was the switch on top of the standard knob. Once she discovered she could easily click and drag items using her thumb, without having to release and readjust her grip, there was no comparison. This feature was much more intuitive and less effortful than recalling which button was needed each time and having to shift her hand position forward and back.
There are mounting plates available to secure and position the Point It joystick but in this case we found that some Dycem and Velcro did the trick! There is a ball handle version available if preferred and a variety of different knobs that can be purchased for use interchangeably with this version. There is also a Bluetooth version of the Point It joystick available which means it can be used wirelessly with a variety of devices including tablets, smart TVs and other home controls. Finally, there is a Mini Point-It which is even smaller and designed specifically for chin users and others who may need a compact joystick mounted in unorthodox positions. More information is available on the Housemate website (http://housemate.ie/point-it/) or from Edtech who are named suppliers of the product in Ireland (https://www.edtech.ie/).
Starting out, the user explored the joystick using simple games online, anything where she could scan and click to access a sound or image. For example, pressing the play button to activate a favourite video on YouTube! It was helpful to use some of the standard Microsoft accessibility features in the early days, such as enlarging the pointer. It was also worthwhile slowing down the speed of the cursor, which could be done either through the Microsoft access features or directly through the joystick controls. Now that the client has sourced a Point-It joystick of her own, she has begun using it to access an onscreen keyboard, play games and read e-books, and to continue drawing and colouring through Microsoft Paint. It also provided valuable preparation in developing joystick skills for powered mobility. In this case, the switch feature on the Point It joystick made all the difference to the user and has opened up a world of opportunities for leisure and learning. Given the development of other Point It products by Housemate, who specialise in environmental control, I anticipate that this will be a helpful product for other uses in future. However, I would not hesitate to explore the Optima again with other users looking for a first-time easy-to-use joystick.