[games_access] Ken Yankelevitz - 30 Years celebration

Barrie Ellis oneswitch at gmail.com
Wed Jun 15 06:00:45 EDT 2011

Great to see Ken getting some internet coverage for his 30 years service to
accessible gaming. I've blogged a bit too, and copied below an interview
from a 1984 Peter A McWilliams book, "Personal Computers and the Disabled":


Ken Yankelevitz is a flight simulation engineer for McDonnell Douglas. In
his spare time he makes joysticks for the disabled. But aren't joysticks for
playing games? Do disabled people want to use computers to play games? As
Ken explains, "Disabled people are just like everybody else - especially

And kids seem to be Ken's speciality. Although disabled adults appreciate
the opportunity to play Pac Man or chess or Decathlon, Ken seems to take
special delight in helping disabled children control the hopping Qbert, or
walking with Big Bird down Sesame Street.

Ken works regularly with the younger members of the Rancho Las Amigos
rehabilitation center in Downey, California. "Some of them use the same type
device as the game controller to operate their wheelchairs," Ken explains.
"Playing games teaches them accuracy and coordination, which they can use in
steering the chairs. It can also be good exercise." So, there are practical
benefits to game playing. "Sure," say Ken, "but mostly it's just fun." It's
also fun to watch disabled youngsters trounce able-bodied friends at video

Ken's controllers are designed for use with movements of either the hand,
head, mouth, foot or tongue. They attache to Atari, Sears, and ColecoVision
video games, and to Atari 400/800 and Commodore VIC-20 computers.

Trying to get game controller devices for his quadriplegic friends proved
impossible, so Ken invented some. He demonstrated them to Atari. They were
not interested in marketing them, but anytime a disabled person called Atari
looking for a special joystick, Atari gave them Ken's name.

He formed KY (Ken Yankelevitz) Enterprises in Long Beach, California. Yet to
show a profit (Ken's special controllers are generally less expensive than
regular mass-produced joysticks), Ken refers to the entire activity as, "An
expensive hobby." His wife, Diane, takes part in the family hobby, too.

The controllers can, of course, be used for more than playing games. ("More"
implies that game playing is lowly and other computer activities are not.
This is not my intent. Recreation, it seems to me, is as valuable as
creation. Let's say that controllers can be used for purposes other than
playing games.)

Many educational programs use the joystick as an interactive device -
selecting letters, numbers, pictures and so on. The controller can be used
as a cursor movement device. The keyboard can be used - perhaps with a mouth
stick - to enter information, and the mouth-activated controller for zipping
about the file while editing. The controller becomes a sort of mouth mouse.

One of the exciting things about the mouth controllers is how inexpensively
an education/communication/game system can be assembled for a disabled
person. Video games or VIC-20 computers cost about $100, and the less
expensive Atari runs $200 or so. Add one of Ken's controllers ($20 to $65),
buy a few cartridges, hook it up to any television, and it's set to go. $120
to $265 may seem like a lot to some budgets - especially considering the
other financial obligations disabilities bring - but such a configuration
offers a great deal of fun and learning for a price lower than most people
think a computer especially adapted for a disabled person might cost.

Were I writing this as a feature piece for a local newscast, I might end it
with something syrupy like: "Ken Yankelevitz helps simulate flight for
grown-ups during the day, so that he can stimulate flights of fancy for
young people at night."

Fortunately for us all, this is not a TV new features. I can close this
piece by simply saying, Good work, Ken. Film at eleven.

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