[games_access] Ken Yankelevitz - 30 Years celebration

Tim Holt tim.m.holt at gmail.com
Wed Jun 15 12:12:20 EDT 2011

What a great writeup Barrie, thanks.


On Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 3:00 AM, Barrie Ellis <oneswitch at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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":



> http://switchgaming.blogspot.com/2011/06/ken-yankelevitz-30-years-of-enabling.html



> 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

> kids."


> 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

> games.


> 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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