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How to make an assistive tech Minecraft controller

Matt Richards

Matt is a PLD facilitator who focuses on digital fluency and learner agency. He specialises in creating STEAM maker spaces for schools, and innovative learning labs for museums and social enterprise. Learn more about Matt here...


At Newlands Intermediate School in Wellington, NZ they have a focus on developing digital fluency and learner agency. Following is just one example of how the school is developing an inclusive local curriculum using technology, in this case, by building an assistive tech Minecraft controller. Here is their story…

“One of our students is restricted to using his left foot for communication and controls, and we wanted to create a way for him to make and collaborate in Minecraft. The maker space at Newlands Intermediate is where we had our 3-hour hack fest.

The teacher who runs the space made room for creativity and invited the design team which comprised the student, student’s aide, a classmate and a couple of teachers. I believe it was this diverse mix of experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and perspective that made the design process so successful and fun. We may have startled the other students in the class a few times with our whooping and cheers!

We may have startled the other students in the class a few times with our whooping and cheers!

Creating a prototype

We decided to try and combine a Makey Makey (with tin foil and cardboard) and an Optima Joystick (using tin foil and cardboard) to provide the floor controls needed for him to play Minecraft. My students at previous schools have made Minecraft controllers with Makey Makey, but the designs always required two hands (or feet) to work.

Creating a workable design to work with one foot was a much better challenge! We were lucky that the classmate helping us was a highly skilled Minecraft player, and the aide knew the best places to test positioning controls and buttons. We rapidly sketched our ideas and discussed the parameters of our designs, then immediately tested the designs with cardboard and tin foil (Makey Makey uses conductivity to work).

The student gave us feedback throughout the design and testing process (and commenced joyfully building in Minecraft, even with half-working controls). We kept modifying the designs to best meet his movement, comfort and game requirements.

Optima Joystick

Working prototype

Eureka! a working prototype

As we worked, other students were coming over to observe

By the end of our 3-hour making session we had a working prototype, Albeit, somewhat flimsy and hacked together. As we worked, other students were coming over to observe, ask questions and offer assistance.

I shared the photo of our design with a different class later in the day and was inundated with students asking to help make the wood and metal version in the school’s hard tech space. We plan to make a robust folding plug and play version that can be stored under the student’s walking frame to give him as much agency as possible in his gaming experience.

Have a go at making your own

If you would like to have a go at making your own assistive tech game controller here are the components we used:

  • Makey Makey – awesome little microelectronics kit
  • Laptop – to run the game and plug the Makey and joystick into
  • Optima Joystick – compact joystick that does not require fine motor skills (student already had one of these)
  • Tin foil
  • Cardboard
  • Sticky tape

The best thing about Makey Makey is it can be adapted to almost any configuration, so it is a great way to quickly make custom controllers for different requirements. This week we start making the wood and metal version. I’ll post a picture when it’s made! :)”

Design in process

This is just one example of the school developing an inclusive local curriculum. In this case, using an assistive tech Minecraft controller. Matt Richards works with the staff and students at Newlands Intermediate on Digital Fluency and Learner Agency. He also supports schools throughout the Wellington region as one of our PLD facilitators.

We love hearing feedback from the team, and think it’s so encouraging to read how aspirational goals/outcomes identified in local curriculum design come to life through practical applications such as this one. And it’s obvious that such initiatives have an impact not only on the student the controller was designed to assist, but also, engaged other students and staff in the room on many levels.

Talk to us about how PLD can make a real difference to your
community through refining your local curriculum design

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