Assistive Technology

So part of Vicky’s (my wife) job as an Occupational Therapist includes sorting out Assistive Technology for those with various physical disabilities. Initially I had little idea of the scope of application that this covered from the various devices that needed control to the various input devices to the actual end function that needed to be performed. I still have a very minor understanding of the various ways in which Assistive Technology is implemented but now at least know terms such as “switch adapted” and “scanning” in this context. It seems that there is almost a need for anything from light switches to electronic deadbolts to iPads to be controlled by any method including push buttons, pressure, levers, joysticks both wired and wirelessly.

I’d heard of things such as “switch enabled mice” and “switch interfaces” to connect large and small momentary push buttons to computers and based on the price had assumed them to be highly configurable devices with many options and much shineyness. Imagine my surprise then upon first laying eyes on one of these switch enabled mice to discover that it’s nothing more than a 2 button USB mouse with a mono 3.5mm socket drilled into the side and wired in parallel with the left mouse button. How can this cost $50?? The same went for a joystick with 3 buttons for a left, center and right click which sells for a cool $750…

I’m sure that there are likely to be some development costs that are being recuperated in regards to the joystick and I guess the number of these devices that are being sold probably drives the cost up a bit but still in an age where you can now use an $19 Arduino to emulate a mouse and a keyboard I would have thought that the cost of these things would have been a lot lower.

Breaking down the mouse conversion you get the following;

  • Microsoft Basic USB wired mouse = $14.95
  • 2.5mm mono socket = $1.50
  • 15cm wire = $0.036
  • Work involved = Unscrew the one screw from the bottom of the mouse, drill hole in side of the mouse and install socket, make the 4 solder connections to the nice large pads that the current button uses (add hot glue is desired), screw mouse up again. = 10-15 minutes work. (pics below)




(Connection points being the top rightmost two solder pads)

Assuming that someone can knock 4-5 of these out an hour then that means that they’re earning at least $60 an hour soldering sockets into mice.

It’s insane the price that some of this stuff is selling for considering what is actually in it. Even more insane when you factor that that price is what is keeping these devices out of the hands of people that could really benefit from being able to use them.

I know that there are people out there that are doing great things converting gaming controllers to make them more accessible to those with disabilities and already working on some custom and reasonably priced equipment but there is still a large gap of need that can be filled by those with even a rudimentary understanding of electronics. Need a keyboard interface? Take that old coffee filled keyboard and solder a couple of buttons or sockets directly onto the controller! That’s all the original buttons are doing after all. 25 minutes later, Job done.

In saying all this it is important to insert this disclaimer. Modifying keyboards and mice is great, it’s easy, it’s fast and it’s relatively safe. Creating new input devices to interface with PC’s Macs, iPads and Tablets is pretty safe too. Unless you absolutely know what you’re doing however don’t play around with critical stuff like electric wheelchair controls, custom devices or anything that could potentially injure someone or destroy an expensive piece of equipment if it all goes wrong.

If you’ve heard of something great that’s happening in this area then chuck it in the comments below. Also if you’ve got anything to say about the above then go for it.