Game Accessibility

Students Aim to Make Wii More Accessible

A Photo of Lindsey KennellEngineering and occupational therapy students from the University of New Hampshire, as well as its group of therapeutic recreation specialists, Northeast Passage, are helping a former women's high school basketball forward to get back into the game. In this case, using the Wii.

In 2006 Lindsey Kennell, a Dover High School senior, was involved in a severe car accident that left her without use of her legs or left arm and only minimal control of her right. She and her family later approached Northeast Passage in hopes of finding new ways to socialize and spend time with her friends in her post-accident state. Read More...

They submitted a list of activities that the teen was interested in gaining renewed access to. Among the suggestions were fishing and paintball. Ultimately Kennell's top pick, playing the Wii from Nintendo, was accepted by the UNH electrical engineering department as their first challenge.

Chris Bancroft, an electrical engineering graduate student and the project's coordinator, oversees the work of a four member team of undergraduates as they continue to develop alternative methods for controlling the console that will meet Kennell's unique needs.

"Basically the project involves adapting current technology that a lot of people can use normally into something for someone with limited functionality," said (free registration required) Bancroft in an interview with The New Hampshire, The University of New Hampshire student publication. "What we're looking to do is restore some sense of normalcy so she can still do all the things that a lot of girls her age would be able to do."

Enabling Kennell to operate the Wii required re-engineering of the Wii Remote. Because she lacks the ability to hold and direct the controller with either hand, the team has relocated the controller's Infrared (IR) sensor to the nose-bridge of a pair of common safety glasses. She still has the ability to move her neck and head and will be able to direct the controller while wearing these glasses.

The proximity of a player to the television screen is related to the amount of movement necessary for operation of the Wii Remote. By situating herself closer to or further from the screen, Lindsey will be able to adjust the amount of effort that goes into gameplay, as well as the stress of the motion on her neck.

By mounting the A and B buttons of the Wii Remote on a flat surface, the team hopes she will be able to press them with her right hand. The possibility of a joystick equipped with Velcro as an alternative to the Wii Remote d-pad has been discussed by the project team, but has yet to be tested. Each team member works independently and the entire team meets weekly to monitor and discuss each other's progress.

Electrical engineering majors Alex Evangelou and John Burdett physically make the alterations to the equipment. Occupational therapy major Angie Royer is on hand to monitor the equipment being designed by the group, making sure it meets Kennell's needs and taking into consideration the amount of stress the adaptations may have on her body and mind. Nicole Muir, another cccupational therapy major also lends assistance when she can. Royer, Evangelou and Burdett will all receive university credit, but experience of the project holds far greater value beyond that.

Dr. John LaCourse, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at the University of New Hampshire, describes his role in the project as a kind of mentor to the students involved. "Electrical engineering students tend to get boxed in laboratories with computers and instruments," he said. "In this particular case you're working with a human being, a client. It's the human element that a lot of the electrical engineers do not get and the occupational therapy students get the electrical engineering side or the computer engineering side so it's a real multidisciplinary activity. A collaborative effort is what I call it."

The main intention of the project is to offer experience to the students involved and provide Lindsey Kennell increased normalcy. She already uses a variety of adapted technologies in her day-to-day life that are commercially available to individuals with disabilities. "I've noticed that if I look more for certain stuff that I know I will be able to use, it's out there," Kennell said. "You just have to look for it."

--Andrew would like to express his thanks to Rachel Gogan for telling him about this story.