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.

Webcam Face trackers

User at a laptop using a webcam face tracker

Webcam Face trackers allow full control of mouse functions without the use of hands. They can be used to access a computer (Windows, Mac), as well as a tablet or smartphone (Android only at present).

Primary users of these technologies are people with motor impairments.  There are various options for hands-free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, lip and chin joysticks, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  Webcam Face trackers are another possible option for hands-free control of your computer or phone. 

Although it may not be as accurate as other hands-free options, such as wearable sensors, with this approach, you don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot.  As you move your head, the motion is translated to mouse cursor movement by the webcam.  However, you do have to maintain a direct line-of-sight to the computer, and the performance is dependent on lighting conditions.

Basic pointing device support on an Android tablet or phone is possible with EVA Facial Mouse.  This is available through Google Play.  It will allow access to functions of the mobile device by means of tracking the user’s face, captured through the frontal camera. 

At the time of writing, a webcam face tracker is not available on iOS devices.  However, it is possible to use Switch Control with head gestures to act as switches.  For example look left for select, look right for home.

All 5 Webcam Face Trackers listed below have options for mouse dwell, click and drag lock.

There are two free windows webcam face trackers – Camera mouse and Enable Viacam.  Both work quite well.  For the paid options, SmyleMouse also tracks facial expressions and has the option of clicking with a smile.  ViVo offers integration with leading speech recognition programs.

As there are trial versions for most of these options below, its best to try them all to really get a feel for it and see which one works best for you.

Wearable hands-free mice options to consider are:

SmyleMouse $499


ViVo Mouse $430


Camera Mouse free


Enable Viacam free

iTracker for Mac $35

The good:  You don’t have to wear a sensor or reflective dot and they are battery-free.

The not so good: They are not as accurate as other methods of hands-free options.

The verdict:  If you don’t need very fine cursor control and don’t want to wear a sensor on your head, then webcam face trackers are a good option for hands-free control.

Handsfree Lip and chin Joysticks

Person using a BJOY chin joystick to control a computer
User using the BJOY chin joystick

A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as reflective dot trackers, wearable sensors, speech recognition or even eye trackers.  One other possible group of devices are Lip and chin Joysticks. 

These products are designed specifically for users with physical disabilities. They are typically USB Plug and Play, which means they will work with any computer platform that supports USB mice, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Android. All can be customized using the built-in mouse settings in the operating system, while some will also include setup software for further customization.

To activate the mouse buttons. The IntegraMouse+, Jouse3, and QuadJoy incorporate a sip/puff switch into their joystick, so that a sip action clicks one mouse button, and a puff action clicks the other. Other options are switches, the BJOY Chin has two circular switch pads, one on either side of the joystick, which can be pressed using the chin or cheek. And the TetraMouse has a second joystick that is devoted to button actions, right next to the joystick for cursor control. Low cost options are the Tobias’ mouse and the Flipmouse.  This are open source hardware and software projects with documented instruction on how to build and 3D Print.  The user moves the cursor by using a mouthpiece. The right mouse button is operated by pushing the mouthpiece towards the case. The left mouse button is emulated by a sensor that recognizes if the user sucks air through it.

Some Lip and chin Joysticks options to consider are

IntegraMouse+  €2000

Person using a IntegraMouse for mouse control

Jouse3 $1,495

Person using a Jouce3 for mouse control

QuadJoy 3 $1,398.60

Person using a QuadJoy 3 for mouse control

BJOY Chin €445

TetraMouse XA2 $449

TetraMouse XA2 for mouse control

Tobias’ mouse  <€50 for parts

Tobias’ mouse low cost opensource mouse

FLipMouse €179

FLipMouse low cost opensource mouse

Video

  • The good:  These hand free options can potentially have precise control and are not effected by lighting or sound.

The not so good: do require a line-of-sight to the computer, and commercial options are expensive.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine cursor control, and don’t want to wear a sensor or reflective dot then these joysticks are a good option for hands free control.

Hands free reflective dot trackers

user using a refective dot tracker to control their computer

If you have a physical limitation that makes it difficult or impossible to use a traditional mouse with your hands, a hands-free mouse can be critical to accessing a computer comfortably and efficiently. A hands-free mouse allows you to perform computer mouse functions without using your hands. There are various options for hands free control of your mouse on a computer screen such as wearable sensors, eye trackers or even speech recognition.  One other possible group of devices are reflective dot trackers. You wear a small reflective dot (often placed as a sticker on the forehead or glasses), and a special sensor unit mounted on or near your computer tracks the motion of the dot to control the mouse cursor as you move.  There is no wired connection between you and the device.   The wearable reflective dot is smaller and less conspicuous than some of the other wearable sensor options. 

These products can replace a traditional mouse for computing platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. And some will work with platforms like Android and Chrome OS as well.

Some reflective dot trackers options to consider are as follows

TrackerPro $995

HeadMouse Nano £888.00

SmartNAV 4:AT €465.00

AccuPoint $1,995.00

The good:  If you are OK with wearing the reflective dot you can independently control a mouse cursor without requiring someone to assist putting on a wearable sensor.  Also less chance in something not working than other hands free options such as eye gaze or voice recognition.

The not so good: does require a line-of-sight to the computer, and can be sensitive to lighting conditions.

The verdict:  If you need or want the ability to make very fine, high-resolution movements of the mouse cursor, similar to what is possible with a traditional mouse, then reflective dot trackers are a good option.