warfighters engage to help disabled vets
Disabled veterans face more insulting challenges than a smaller job market; they struggle to perform the same daily tasks everyone else can. Even methods of escapism are harder for disabled vets to use, and with a rising number of gamers in the military, that limited mobility often means video games are impossible to play. After all, how can you move a joystick without a hand?
Fortunately, there are innovators to help disabled vets take back part of their old lives. Ken Jones, a mechanical engineer, and volunteer at Walter Reed Medical Center has created plenty of simple tools to help veterans with their daily lives. After modifying an RC controller for a quadruple amputee, Jones discovered that plenty of injured vets were looking for a way to play their favorite games again. In fact, Jones received so many requests that he founded Warfighter Engaged, a nonprofit charity that makes customized controllers for disabled veterans.
“There’s a huge range of modified game controllers,” Jones said in a recent interview, but what makes his work mentionable is the personalized design each controller has. Some are “relatively easy”¦just the relocation of a couple of buttons,” but others “become a little table-top” complete with foot pedals and palm-sized buttons; it all depends on the vet’s specific needs.
Dave Crouse, a retired EOD Marine and Jones’ partner in Warfighter Engaged, notes that there are plenty of challenges that come with the territory. These controllers compensate for an injury, and as an amputee himself, Crouse knows how dynamic these injuries can be: ”If you gain a little weight, your prosthetics don’t fit; if you lose a little weight, your prosthetics don’t fit.” Even nerve sensitivity changes over time, which means a modified controller that works now, might not work in the near future. Thankfully, Jones is proud to provide a “lifetime warranty” on everything Warfighter Engaged offers. If a controller no longer feels comfortable, send it back; Jones and Crouse will make a new one!
Distance is another problem. Custom work needs to match the vet’s precise needs, which usually require physical contact with the client. Warfighter Engaged reaches most of their new vets online, and while services like Skype work better than pure text, Jones realizes the difficulty in designing a unique controller without having the client nearby to test it. In order to test his work before shipping it, Jones needs to place himself in the shoes of a disabled veteran. “I put socks over my hands, so I can’t use my fingers”¦if you don’t hinder yourself like that, you’ll end up reverting to your old habits. That doesn’t help [the veteran].”
Warfighter Engaged has managed to help dozens of disabled veterans with little more than ingenuity and a threadbare budget, so Stack-Up wants to help spread the word. Jones makes most of his customized pieces on a 3D printer in his garage but in order to make a functioning product he needs to start every project from a store-bought controller. With so many consoles available, buying base controllers can quickly become expensive; any donations””especially latest generation hardware””are greatly appreciated. Warfighter Engaged offers T-shirts and other products that help fund their charity. They can even offer tax incentives if the proper terms are met!
Check out http://www.warfighterengaged.org/ for more details.
Most importantly, Jones and Crouse want your help reaching those in need. For veterans that may be struggling to adapt, a little aid might go a long way towards achieving independence. If you know a disabled veteran””even if they never played a video game in their life””let them know that Warfighter Engaged is willing to help them out.
“Don’t just think of gaming,” says Jones, “think of other things: personal products, other recreational sports”¦stuff you may be able to buy already, but they stink because they don’t work for you”¦they’re designed for the masses, not for [individual injuries].” Although the logo includes a game controller, Warfighter Engaged can handle plenty of work unrelated to video games.
When asked why the charity specialized in gaming, both Jones and Crouse replied that “it’s not about the games.” For Jones, this is a service to those who have sacrificed so much for their country; video games just happen to be popular with millennial soldiers and vets. For Crouse, Warfighter Engaged offers a chance for normality and an opportunity for disabled veterans to gain some self-confidence again.
“This is about getting some independence back,” says Crouse, and for the troops who literally sacrifice part of themselves to protect our independence, it seems like the least we can do to return the favor.