Physical Therapy Student Uses Ingenuity to Help a Friend

Katrina Simons was excited when she finally bought her new Nintendo Switch. It was the newest, hottest consol on the market. However, she soon found out that even the Switch had limitations that were difficult to get around.

“I bought the Nintendo Switch controller, but then I realized it was very frustrating because it looked like it would be easier to play it with my left hand than it actually was so I couldn’t use the left-handed controller,” Simons said.

Simons has limits to her fine motor skills and control of her left hand due to Cerebral Palsy. This makes some games on the Switch more difficult to play.

However, Leah Grinvalsky, a third-year physical therapy student pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and personal care assistant to Katrina, had other ideas.

“I wanted to look into ways she might be able to play some of those games that involve two hands because she doesn’t have a lot of function out of one of her hands, and her other hand is less mobile than a normal hand would be,” Grinvalsky said.

After some time searching the internet, she came across an online forum that had schematics for a 3D-printed adapter for the Switch controllers. This would allow Simons to use the controller with her dominant hand.

The instructions were pretty straightforward, and with the help of the Makerspace in the  Bio-Medical Library which has 3D printers and other resources, Grinvalsky was able to print the adapter on campus. However, Grinvalsky and Simons had to work through some trial-and-error to see what worked best.

“That adapter itself didn’t work the way we wanted it to,” Grinvalsky said. “The buttons on the controller were still a little too small for her to control properly. That being said, there were other options. We were able to add a thumb grip onto the controller in order to lift up the joystick and make it easier to control.”

Since the two built the adapter, Simons has been able to play some of her favorite games on the modified controller.

“She’s been able to play Super Mario Odyssey, which is one of her favorite games and she’s gotten farther than I’ve gotten. I’m going to call that a win,” Grinvalsky said.

For Simons, her perception on the future of care for patients like her is one full of hope.

“Sometimes, we struggle with finding ways for people with congenital disabilities to enjoy the same things as their peers. I thought this was a really good way to do it,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that she’s not even a physical therapist yet, and she’s already thinking of ways to adapt and modify things for specific purposes.

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