If you use a power wheelchair in your day-to-day life, you likely use something that looks an awful lot like a gaming joystick to get around. It seems AbleGamers COO, Rocket League fan and wheelchair user Steven Spohn thought so too, and set about trying to bridge that gap. A little bit of hardware tinkering later, and the Freedom Wing Adaptor was born – a nifty little box that lets you plug a power wheelchair into an Xbox Adaptive Controller.
The Freedom Wing Adaptor was developed in collaboration with assistive hardware specialists ATMakers. Working closely with Spohn, ATM Co-founder Bill Blinko quickly found that using a wheelchair joystick made a hell of a lotta sense as a videogame controller.
“People have already positioned these on their chairs, they have the muscle memory of being able to use them,” Blinko explains. “Turns out, it’s a really great way to get gaming to someone who uses a power chair.”
To keep technicals to a minimum, the FWA is a clever little box that reads information sent by the wheelchair controller and feeds it into the Xbox Adaptive controller. Bam, now you’ve got a proper videogame analogue stick, one that can be used alongside any other button or input attached to the XAC. And if it plugs into an Xbox, it’ll plug into a PC, and should work with any game you throw at it.
It is worth noting – as one reply to the video pointed out – that the FWA isn’t universally compatible with every power wheelchair. Spohn himself appears to use a speciality controller on his chair, for example, and commenter Matt Janzen believes the more common controller for that chair “would not work with the adapter because it is proprietary to the wheelchair manufacturer’s electronics.”
Using the adapter does also mean disconnecting the joystick from the chair proper. Probably for the best – Rocket League’s gravity-defying stunts probably don’t translate well into a living room setting.
Ablegamers, for their part, are preparing a list of compatible chairs/controllers for the FWA. They’re still quite keen to get it in as many hands as possible, though, and plan for the device specs to be 100% open source. They also reckon it shouldn’t cost too much to assemble, with a total construction cost estimated at roughly £26/$35.
“I want to underscore 2020 brought us the year when someone can drive their wheelchair up to an Xbox and plug it in,” Spohn posted on Twitter. “Unimaginable before now. Game-changing.”