Introducing a Joystick

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.

Optima joystick

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.

Low force wheelchair joysticks

This post is following on from an earlier post on Alternative ways to control a power wheelchair.

Standard wheelchair joysticks are controlled by moving or deflecting the joystick in the direction that you wish to travel.

The force required to deflect a joystick is either provided by the manufacturer in either Newtons or in grams.  You can think of 1 newton as being about 100g.  A standard wheelchair joystick will typically have an operation force of about 200 to 250 grams.  This may be irrelevant to most but some individuals the force required to deflect the joystick may be the difference between being able to use the joystick or not.

Unfortunately the HMC mini joystick has gone off the market but luckily there are a few good alternative options of joysticks that require quite a low force to operate.

Mo-Vis

Relatively new onto the market is a company called Mo-Vis.  They manufacture two low force joysticks.  One is the Micro Joystick.  The Micro Joystick is a small proportional joystick, especially designed for people with poor or weak muscular power and/or restricted movement. This joystick can be controlled by finger, lip, tongue.  Dimensions (h 50 mm/1.97 in – Ø 29 mm/1.41 in).  It can be controlled with a minimal force of (+- 10 grams) which is very similar to the HMC mini joystick.

Micro Joystick low force joystick

Another joystick from Mo-Vis is the Multi Joystick.  It is a larger joystick and the force required for activation is 50 grams, but still quite a good bit less that the standard joystick.  It provides two useful jack inputs for switches to control on/off or as a mode switch.

Adaptive Switch Laboratories

Adaptive Switch Laboratories produce another nice option.  The ASL 130 Micro Extremity Control (MEC) only requires 18 grams of force to deflect the joystick. It has a unique feature of having a built in mode change function.  Pushing directly down from neutral position will reset the chair to the next mode that is turned on.  This will benefit anyone that does not have another switch site available or has difficulty taking their hand on and off the joystick.

ASL 130 Micro Extremity Control low force joystick

Switch-It

Finally a company called Switch-It produce two light touch joysticks.  The MICROGUIDE takes about 40 grams of force for activation.  Approximate Joystick Dimensions: Diameter: 5/8” x Height without knob: 2.8”.

They have also a joystick called the MICROPILOT . The MicroPilot is a light touch proportional miniature joystick that required no deflection (throw).  Activating force is 10 grams.

Microguide low force joystick